Laptop desk

Almost three quarters (72%) of employers report that they have observed presenteeism in their organisation – employees coming into work when sick, and 29% say they’ve seen an increase in the last 12 months.

The CIPD’s latest Absence Management Survey has revealed that ‘presenteeism’ is on the rise, depite a slight decline in the overall level of employee absence from 6.9 days per employee per year to 6.3 days. The survey also revealed that absence in the public sector is still too high with the average days lost per employee per year at 5.2 days in the private sector, compared with 8.5 days in the public sector.

The average cost to business of absence is £522 per employee, although this is lower for the private sector at £505, but much higher for the public sector at £835 per employee.

However another report from CIPD last year found the cost of presenteeism in the workplace is even higher than the cost of absence – accounting for twice the cost of sick leave.

Adrian Lewis, director at Activ Absence says, “Presenteeism is a worrying trend and suggests that people are scared to take time off, even when they are sick, for fear of losing their jobs or not getting work finished. This can have a detrimental effect on an employee’s health and cause workplace epidemics, all of which can lead to a loss of productivity as people are not able to give their best if they are ill.

“We allow staff to work from home if they are unwell, or even if they have to be at home for a delivery occasionally. It means staff who are infectious but feel well enough to work have the opportunity to do so without infecting the whole office, and flexibility for family responsibilities improves loyalty.”

“Whilst some people struggle into work if they are unwell, thinking their bosses will be pleased with them, it is counterproductive. It can lead to the illness lasting longer, and an ‘overworking culture’ ultimately leads to stress, one of the most common reasons for both short and long term absence in the workplace,” adds Mr Lewis.

The CIPD report found that the top five causes of short-term absence are minor illness (95%), stress (47%), musculoskeletal injuries (44%), home/family/carer responsibilities (35%), and mental ill health (34%).

Common causes of long-term absence are stress (53%), acute medical conditions (53%), mental ill health (49%), musculoskeletal injuries (44%) and back pain (35%).

Adrian Lewis adds, “Companies need to be doing more to tackle both absenteeism and presenteeism. One way to do this is to invest in absence management software to monitor trends, such as someone regularly taking a Monday or Friday off, as well as having solid absence management policies in place such as using formal return to work interviews.

“This type of information can help identify employees who never take time off never sick and don’t use up their holiday but whose productivity levels do not reflect this. It will also help managers identify health issues early on, giving managers an opportunity to provide individual support.

“Organisations should create a workplace culture that doesn’t reward people for being at their desks. If people are genuinely ill they need to be able to take time off knowing that they won’t be reprimanded. This makes employees feel valued and cared for, which will improve both engagement and productivity, something all organisations should be striving for in 2017,” adds Mr Lewis.

Here are some tips for organisations wishing to tackle presenteeism:

  • Develop a policy on both absenteeism and presenteeism and make sure everyone in the organisation is aware of it
  • Boost morale in the workplace. Perhaps look at more team building activities or something simple such as a few drinks in the office every Friday to say thank you
  • Encourage people to look out for their colleagues and spot signs if someone is ill or struggling at work. Also provide proper training for managers to recognise the symptoms of stress, ill health or mental health problems
  • Ensure managers are aware of what causes presenteeism. Large workloads or tight deadlines can stop people taking time off in order to get things done. Line managers should be able to manage their teams workloads appropriately
  • Make sure managers have the soft skills to communicate effectively with their team and promote open communication. They should also encourage positive working and wellbeing practices including strategies for better work/life balance