Persistent presenteeism

Employees reluctant to stay at home when ill

Workplaces are suffering from persistent presenteeism as up to 28 million employees may be coming into work when ill.

Presenteeism remains a pervasive problem in UK office culture, as nearly half (47%) of employees surveyed reveal they didn’t take a sick day, according to new research[1].

Minor illness
While there has been a small decrease in the number of employees not taking a sick day from 2016 (54%), the tendency to come into the workplace when suffering from a minor illness persists, as nine in ten (88%) admit they go into the office.

The reasons why employees were reluctant to stay at home when ill varied. Over half (53%) stated that even though they were unwell, they felt it did not warrant a day off. A quarter (25%) said their workload was too great for them to take time off, and one in ten (9%) admitted they didn’t feel secure enough in their role to take a sick day.

Positive perceptions
For those concerned about how their colleagues would perceive them, one in five (19%) believe they would be viewed as weak, 17% believe they would be perceived as lazy and 15% believe they would be viewed as inconsiderate. However, positive perceptions were also popular with 17% of workers believing they would be viewed as sensible or genuine, and 15% as honest.

For employees who took time off when unwell, the average number of days taken rose in 2017, from 2.8 to 4.4. Failing to take a sick day can have a significant impact on business performance, as employees fail to recuperate properly. As well as changing perceptions, employers can offer much more to support staff when they are unwell.

Highest proportion
The majority of those who took time off for illness in 2017 were out of the office for between one and five days. Overall, the number who took this amount of time off remained fairly static, at 30% in 2016 and 28% in 2017. However, around one in twelve (8%) took between 11 and 20 sick days in total – the highest proportion since 2015.

Employees say their well-being would improve with flexible working, a positive attitude towards the issue and increased workplace support. Three in ten (28%) say flexible working options would help with both their physical and mental health, and this was particularly popular amongst women, with one third (33%) agreeing.

Workplace attitude
A similar number of workers (27%) also said a more positive workplace attitude towards health and well-being would help, while a fifth (19%) said better workplace support (for example, Employee Assistance Programmes) would be beneficial.

Presenteeism is a vicious cycle; the drive to remain in the office can cause illness to spread or end up leading to a longer recovery time. It is encouraging to see that many employees view those taking time off for illness in a positive way, being described as genuine, honest and sensible. To reduce presenteeism, these positive perceptions must be encouraged so workplaces can reduce any stigma attached to taking time off. τ