Employers are failing to make health a priority while many of their staff are over-optimistic about the state of their health.
The results from two surveys make concerning reading for employers and their working population - noting that neither was well prepared for any prolonged absence.
Just 46% of SME business leaders said they believed employee health and wellbeing would be a key consideration in their future growth strategy.
This was despite three quarters (76%) having noticed a significant impact on the growth of their business from an employee taking a long sickness absence.
And nearly half (46%) believed even a short-term absence early in the business' life would have been damaging.
The severity of the issue came to light with one in three (32%) SME leaders admitting to the Bupa survey that they had lost money because of sickness absence. Nearly half (47%) agreed that if a team member took a significant period of absence now it would impact business growth.
Despite the strong link between employee health and wellbeing and business growth, a quarter (24%) of SME leaders admitted that their business had become less concerned with health and wellbeing as it had grown.
A quarter of owners and directors (24%) claimed they did not have the time to think about employee health, while just 13% had employed HR professionals with specific responsibility for employee health and wellbeing.
More than half (53%) did not provide employees with any health and wellbeing benefits, while two in five (43%) said they would never consider providing such benefits.
The UK's employees were also unrealistic about the importance of health and work.
Half of Brits questioned by Zurich displayed a classic believed they had a less than one in ten chance of being unable to work through disability.
And 60% thought the risk of a significant workplace absence for the rest of the population was far greater than it was for themselves.
However, figures show that 16% of the working age population in the UK suffers a disability that prevents them from working and around 300,000 people a year fall out of work and into the welfare system because of health related issues.
Three in four optimistic Brits also felt they were doing enough to prevent themselves from occupational disability, with 42% saying the best way to do this was to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
As well as underestimating their chances of being unable to work because of medical reasons, people also believed that if it did happen it would occur later.
Looking at the impact on their finances, 44% of Brits anticipated their income being cut by up to half if they became unable to work due to disability and only 15% said they could maintain their current lifestyle with this reduction.
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