Presenteeism is a stubbornly persistent trend among the UK workforce.
We have been researching this topic for the past three years, revisiting the same key questions to build a longitudinal picture of trends in the UK workforce.
The picture we are seeing develop is not one that fills us with confidence; in fact, we have seen no improvement across our studies.
In 2016, nine in 10 (90 per cent) employees say they have come into the office while ill this year, compared to 93 per cent in 2014 and 89 per cent in 2015.
So why are employees so insistently eschewing their sick beds? The reasons do not come as a surprise, and they do not paint a picture of a workforce which is entirely comfortable with the connection between health and productivity.
Heavy workloads (28 per cent), financial concerns (21 per cent) and feeling guilty for taking time off (17 per cent) are all commonly cited. Taking time off also has negative connotations for the individuals themselves, with employees fearing they will be seen as lazy (16 per cent), weak (14 per cent) or inconsiderate (14 per cent) if they take sick leave.
In fact, only one in five (22 per cent) respondents thought the decision to stay away from the office while they are unwell would be viewed as sensible by their organisation.
There are obvious productivity issues with coming to work while sick, though – 69 per cent of employees say their performance at work is impaired when they are ill.
The individual loss of productivity aside, there is also the risk of illness spreading around an organisation if a contagious colleague brings an infection to work with them. Nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of staff say they have become unwell as a result of a colleague’s illness.
But why on earth does any of this matter to an adviser? It’s an issue that employers clearly need to be aware of, and advisers with corporate clients are best placed to raise this issue with them.
Consider that two in five (42 per cent) employees suggested they would come into work with a stomach virus – despite displaying symptoms of nausea and diarrhoea – and it’s obvious that far too many organisations are cultivating an unhealthy attitude to recuperating away from the office.
Very few of us are lucky enough to make our way through life without succumbing to illness every once in a while. We can all relate to the unpleasantness of the simplest tasks while fending off an infection, so why is the perception of such a lack of empathy so widespread in the context of work?
Presenteeism is a dangerous trend for organisations. Working while ill means ‘empty’ hours are spent doing poor quality work, driving productivity down. It’s also self-perpetuating, particularly in more serious cases.