Fighting Through Sickness: Study Reveals Employees Coming To Work Despite Being Unwell

Ellen Lees
By Ellen Lees,
updated on May 2, 2018

Fighting Through Sickness: Study Reveals Employees Coming To Work Despite Being Unwell

New research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) shows 86% of firms have seen a rise in ‘presenteeism’ over the past 12 months

The number of companies reporting a rise in employees coming into the office when sick has more than tripled since 2010, according to the latest Health and Wellbeing at Work survey, conducted by CIPD. Completed by over 1000 British employers representing nearly 5 million workers, results show that ‘presenteeism’ - coming into work despite being unwell, mentally or physically - it at a record high.

86% of organisations report presenteeism during the last 12 months, and more than two thirds have noticed ‘leaveism’, such as people working when they should be on leave or working outside of their contracted hours.

This isn’t a good thing, either. CIPD have criticised the desire and need to impress colleagues, management and keep working despite being unwell, warning that this is damaging the economy.

Rachel Suff, Senior Policy Adviser and author of the study, said: “If people are coming in to work when really unwell, it means that they are not performing and not adding value to their job, while their own condition could worsen of they could pass it to other workers.”

This new study tallies with findings by Nottingham Business school, who last year revealed that the average UK employee would spend almost two weeks a year working when unwell, costing companies more than £4,000 a worker due to lost productivity.

The study also found that the greatest risks to employee well-being are psychological, with 37% of organisations reporting an increase in stress-related absence, and one in five respondents reporting mental ill health as the number one cause of long-term absence.

So, what’s being done?

Nearly a quarter of organisations who recognised an increase in presenteeism report taking steps to discourage unhealthy working patterns and promote a better work-life balance, however, the remaining report no changes being made, or are unsure.

HR needs to develop a solid, evidence-based understanding of the causes of absence and unhealthy practices that could adversely affect employee wellbeing.

CIPD say that “while only a minority of organisations (6%) have a standalone mental health policy, we have seen small increases this year in the proportion reporting that mental health is part of another policy or that they are developing a policy.”

“Around half of respondents agree that their organisation encourages openness about mental health, is effective at supporting people with mental ill health and actively promotes good mental wellbeing.

“Less than a third, however, agree that senior leaders encourage a focus on mental wellbeing through their actions and behaviour.

“Moreover, respondents are more likely to disagree than agree that managers are confident and competent to identify and support those with mental health issues.”

Clearly more needs to be done, but it it’s good to see many organisations recognising the issues their employees are facing, and taking steps to support them. Much of the issue is about understanding why employees feel the need to work out of hours, during leave or when unwell, and making it known that taking time off for both mental and physical health is completely acceptable and welcomed. There is no shame in needing to take a break.

Learn more about reporting a mental health issue at work and how to achieve a work-life balance. If you are an organisation and would like to learn more about what you can do to support employees, visit Counselling Directory.

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