Rachel Suff: How can employers reduce presenteeism?

Presenteeism, employees coming in to work when they are ill, has become a serious problem in the UK. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)/Simplyhealth Absence management survey, published in November 2016, nearly three-quarters of UK employers have observed presenteeism within their organisations, with three in 10 reporting an increase in the last 12 months.

These figures have hardly changed in six years, and part of the reason may be that many employers do not understand the knock-on effect it can have in the workplace. Research suggests ill employees who come into work will be less productive, may be more likely to make mistakes in their work, and may make colleagues ill.

There may also be implications around mental health. Our research found that employers which reported an increase in presenteeism were also more likely to say they had seen an increase in stress-related absence and mental health problems over the past year, which demonstrates the more serious effects that not addressing presenteeism can have.

Presenteeism is particularly common in organisations where a culture of long working hours is the norm and where operational demands take precedence over employee wellbeing. Also, in periods of job insecurity, people may be more likely to go into work when they are ill, rather than take a day off sick, for fear their commitment to their job will be doubted.

It is this culture and these fears that need to be addressed in order to reduce presenteeism at work. Organisations should be developing employee wellbeing strategies with a clear focus on making sure the values and organisational culture, quality of leadership, and management style all support a commitment to employee wellbeing.

Setting the right precedent around attendance, such as through role modelling from managers and senior leaders, is also key. If senior people come into work when they are sick, that sends a message to the workforce that they should not take time off when they need to. Training for line managers, so that they feel confident and competent to manage people in a way that gets the best out of them while also considering their wellbeing, will help set the framework for a supportive organisational culture where employees can look after their health in the right way.

Rachel Suff is employment relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)