Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the average number of sick days taken by UK workers fell to 4.1 days in 2017. This is a significant reduction from the average of 7.2 days in 1993 when the data was first collected. At first glance this could be viewed as positive news for businesses, ACAS suggests that sickness absence costs the UK economy £17 billion a year.
However, how much of this decrease is explained by employees coming into work when they are unwell?
A recent Work Foundation report has found that “presenteeism”, or sickness presence, could account for as much if not more of a loss in productivity than sickness absence. Increased presenteeism can be linked to stress, anxiety and depression. A 2018 CIPD/Simplyhealth survey showed that Presenteeism has almost trebled since 2010. A thousand participants responded to the survey which revealed that 86% had observed employees in their organisation coming into work unwell over the past 12 months.
Rachel Suff, Senior Employment Relations Adviser at the CIPD, said
“In order to encourage a healthy workplace, organisations need to look beyond sickness absence rates alone and develop a solid, evidence-based understanding of the underlying causes of work-related stress and unhealthy behaviour like presenteeism. Without this evidence base, efforts to support employees and improve their health and well-being will be short-lived.”
What Can My Organisation Do To keep Control of Presenteeism?
1) Encourage a culture that encourages good attendance when people are well but expects unwell employees to stay at home and recover. Those in leadership roles can help this by setting a good example.
2) Be supportive to employees returning to work after a period of sickness absence.
3) Develop a policy on both absenteeism and presenteeism and make sure everyone in the organisation is aware of it.
4) Be aware of the signs of stress and mental health in particular and ensure managers are trained and supported in this regard. Colleagues can also be encouraged to look out for each other and spot any warning signs.
5) Introduce a technology such as absence management software that can help organisations spot trends,and uncover underlying health issues such as stress.