Nine out of 10 employees say they have been into work while ill, more than three times the number who will admit to ‘pulling a sickie’ according to new research.
This survey — by Canada Life Group Insurance— shows that ‘presenteeism’ continues to rise and may be more of a problem for employers than absenteeism.
For the past five years, Canada Life has been tracking presenteeism levels in the UK. This trend shows little sign of abating, with no improvement in the proportion of employees working when ill since the study began back in 2014.
The survey also found that as many as two in five (42 per cent) employees took no time off whatsoever for sickness in 2018.
When asked why then went into work when feeling unwell, three if five (58 per cent) of employees said they did not believe they were illenough to warrant a day off.
Meanwhile, a quarter (27 per cent) said their workload was too large to take a sick day, while slightly fewer (23 per cent) worried about the financial implications of taking a day off.
The survey also found that one in five (18 per cent) said their colleagues made them feel guilty for taking time off, even when they were ill. Similarly, one in 10 workers say they have had their work ethic questioned in the past, either by their manager (11 per cent) or colleagues (10 per cent).
This problem is extending beyond the office nine to five. The survey also identified a trend, it calls “‘casual presenteeism” with employees checking emails and laptops outside of office hours.
A total of one in five (22 per cent) monitor work emails in their spare time, which rises to 26 per cent for workers under 40. A further 21 per cent check work emails first thing in the morning and 17 per cent admit to checking and responding to emails when they’re unwell.
Canada Life’s marketing director Paul Avis says that to tackle presenteeism employers need to communicate the support they can offer employees who experience health issues.
At the moment, nearly half (47 per cent) of employees are either unaware or unable to access sickness absence support in the workplace. However, three in 10 (29 per cent) can speak to a designated member of staff, while one in five (21 per cent) have access to a helpline or external organisation and 17 per cent have access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
Meanwhile, the survey found that a quarter (24 per cent) of employees would feel more comfortable taking time off for illness if there was less pressure from their boss to be ‘always on’ and working.
Avis adds: “Presenteeism has been a persistent problem since long before we began our study of the phenomenon. The explosion of technology for work has let it grow into a far more pervasive issue and even start to invade our homes. Employees feel the need to work because of guilt, embarrassment and pride. An ‘always on’ culture means many end up checking emails or working extra hours on a regular basis, even when feeling ill.
“Presenteeism is counterproductive as it signifies employees do not believe illness is taken seriously in their organisation, which has a negative impact in the long run in terms of staff retention and productivity. Employers must communicate the support they can offer employees to ensure they take time off when they need it.”