Companies who ignore employees' workplace health concerns do so at their peril - for a sick and unhappy workforce is likely to impact negatively on both performance and productivity

Now that spring is here we can hopefully wave goodbye to the cold and flu viruses that have been spreading through many of our workplaces this winter. We have all experienced the miserable feeling of being unwell and the need to take time off from work to recover, at one point or another.

But how does sickness at work impact on the business and what can you do to tackle the issue in your organisation?

Working in the retail sector can be fast-paced and challenging and, with many facing tough targets, managers need to be at their best to perform well. But new research carried out by the Chartered Management Institute and Workplace Health Connect reveals that a high proportion of managers (58%) admit to being unproductive for at least 20% of their time, due to poor health. This means that the overall performance of the organisation is suffering too, which must be worrying for those running retail businesses.

The report shows that managers are having trouble concentrating, suffering from constant tiredness and experiencing muscular tension, aches and pains. Sickness absence is one thing, but the research revealed that managers in the sector are generally not reporting these more minor incidents of ill health and are therefore failing to seek help and properly address such illnesses.

It is important to encourage your team to report health problems so that these issues can be dealt with quickly and effectively. And, as a manager, you will need to lead by example and ensure that you report your own ill health. Look for solutions to the common problems that are being reported so that employees can see the value of letting you know about health concerns.

It is also a good idea to explain the procedure for reporting sickness and what type of support is available. After all, there is no point having a policy or support service in place if it is not used or understood. The report did show that most companies (91%) have general health and safety policies in place, yet far fewer have policies on occupational illnesses (57%) or managing absence (68%). Fewer still offer training in these two areas (28% and 35%).

With a loss of skills now included as a risk factor in many organisations' business continuity plans, you have a responsibility to promote the well-being of your employees and to ensure the health of the business.

The evidence is clear - where health initiatives and benefits are offered by companies there is an increase in the physical and psychological health of employees. This means that your company is also likely to grow fitter with improved performance and productivity. For example, organisations offering leave of absence to help work/life issues have on average 2.82 days less absence per employee per year.

So, in order to help you deal with workplace health concerns and develop your career as a leader, you might need to invest in some training for key members of your team. Management styles and the culture of an organisation can heavily impact the well-being of employees. Your team members may need to take more personal responsibility for improving their health and as such this may require addressing their working hours and job design, as well as any direct health and fitness activities.

Stress may be a key factor for some people so try to offer ways of ensuring targets are reached without having a negative impact on health. Make sure that employees are able to take time off from work when they are unwell and that arrangements for covering workloads during these periods are established.

Supporting the health needs of those who work with you will not only help them perform at their best, but also help you develop new people management skills to further your own retail career. After all, if your team is a picture of health, your business is more likely to achieve healthy returns.

Petra Cook is head of Public Affairs, Chartered Management Institute