Rise in UK Employee Presenteeism

Healthcare Executive SearchCanada Life Group Insurance have reported a rise of ‘presenteeism’ among the UK workforce, with 93% of UK employees surveyed having attended work whilst ill. 36% of employees surveyed stated they would rather use annual leave when ill than have the time off showing on their sickness record. Canada Life’s research shows an average of 4.1 sick days in 2012, with male employees in particular taking fewer days off for illness (3.5 days compared to 4.4 days for women).

Canada Life found that the majority (76%) of workers said they had come into work because they didn’t feel their illness warranted a day off, while almost a third (31%) felt their workload was too great to take time off. A fifth (20%) said that they were worried about the financial implications of their absence and (19%) had been made to feel guilty about taking time off by colleagues or senior members of staff. One in eight (13%) had felt too threatened by the risk of redundancy.

This has resulted in around a quarter of respondents (26%) having used their holiday allowance whilst ill, in order to avoid a poor sickness record or to conform to their employer’s sickness absence policy. A third of the employees surveyed said that they were so reluctant to take time off ill that they would still come into work if they were suffering from flu and 14% would come into the workplace if they had vomiting and diarrhoea. When it came to stress-related illness, over three quarters (80%) said that this would not make them take time off work.

Having unwell staff at work can have an impact on health in the workplace, with 81% of the employees surveyed saying they have caught illnesses from other members of staff and a fifth (20%) saying that it is a frequent occurrence. Productivity also suffers with over three quarters (82%) of those who continued to work whilst ill saying they felt they had performed worse than usual.

Paul Avis, Marketing Director of Canada Life Group, commented:

“It is worrying that the UK’s workers are so reluctant to take time off even when they are genuinely unwell. Anxieties about a heavy workload, risk of redundancy and criticism from other colleagues are preventing employees from taking the sick leave that they need, yet are also no doubt exacerbating certain conditions, particularly those that are stress-related.

Employers need to do more to make their stance on sickness absence clear – the fact that 37% are not aware of any workplace support in terms of sickness absence shows that there is still some way to go in communicating the different options available to staff should they become unwell for an extended period of time. Our research demonstrates the importance of rehabilitation consultants, with almost a third (29%) saying a rehabilitation programme would provide peace of mind.

“Employees should not be discouraged from taking time off when they are genuinely unwell, as presenteeism creates not only an unpleasant working environment but also one that is counter-productive. Staff need to feel that they won’t be penalised for taking sick leave and organisations therefore should ensure they communicate their support.”


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