Presenteeism on the rise among UK workforce

Presenteeism among the UK workforce is on the rise, with 93% of employee respondents coming into work despite being ill, according to research by Canada Life Group Insurance.

Its research, which polled more than 1,000 UK workers, found that more than a third (36%) of respondents would rather use their annual holiday allowance than suffer a poor sickness record.

The main reasons respondents come into work when they are ill include: they do not think their illness is serious enough to warrant a day off (76%); they are faced with the pressure of a heavy workload (31%); they worry about the financial implications (20%); their colleagues, such as senior members of staff, made them feel guilty for taking time off (19%); and they feel too threatened by the risk of redundancy (13%).

The research also found:

  • The average number of sick days per employee per year stood at 4.1 in 2012.
  • 26% of respondents have used their holiday allowance while off sick to avoid gaining a poor official sickness record or falling foul of their employer’s sickness absence policy.
  • 33% of respondents would still come into the office with the flu.
  • 80% of respondents would not take time off for stress-related illnesses.
  • 37% of respondents are not aware of any form of workplace support around sickness absence in their organisation, while 13% said they definitely do not have this.
  • 10% of respondents have a helpline or external organisation they can contact in case they become ill for an extended period of time, while 15% have an employee assistance programme available to them.
  • 29% of respondents said a rehabilitation programme in the event of a long-term illness would provide peace of mind.

Paul Avis, marketing director at Canada Life Group (pictured), said: “It is worrying that the UK’s workers are so reluctant to take time off even when they are genuinely unwell.

“Anxieties about a heavy workload, risk of redundancy and criticism from other colleagues are preventing employees from taking the sick leave that they need, yet are also no doubt exacerbating certain conditions, particularly those that are stress-related.

“Employers need to do more to make their stance on sickness absence clear. The fact that 37% are not aware of any workplace support in terms of sickness absence shows that there is still some way to go in communicating the different options available to staff should they become unwell for an extended period of time.

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 “Employees should not be discouraged from taking time off when they are genuinely unwell, because presenteeism creates not only an unpleasant working environment but also one that is counter-productive.

“Staff need to feel that they won’t be penalised for taking sick leave and organisations, therefore, should ensure they communicate their support.”