How to deal with presenteeism at work

Now that we’re approaching flu season, how likely are you to turn up for work even though you’re feeling unwell?

If so, you could be contributing to a rising problem in the workplace. Dubbed ‘presenteeism’, more businesses are starting to see it as an issue that needs to be resolved.

Presenteeism at work triples

A recent CIPD survey showed that the number of people coming into work when they are ill has more than tripled since 2010. In 2018, 86% of employees admitted that they had observed presenteeism in the workplace, compared to just 26% in 2010.

Woman wearing a surgical mask handing a man with a cold a tissue

This is particularly concerning when you consider that research also showed that presenteeism from mental health alone was estimated to cost the UK economy £15.1 billion per annum, compared to £8.4 billion for absenteeism.

Despite this, only 25% of the respondents that experienced presenteeism at work say their organisation has taken steps to discourage it, a figure that has almost halved since 2016 (48%).

Why are employees showing up for work while ill?

While employee absence management is considered by many as a vital aspect of an occupational health and wellbeing strategy, presenteeism should be seen as an equal risk to the business.

A Canada Life Insurance survey found that some of the reasons employees gave for presenteeism included:

  • Feeling that their illness didn’t warrant a day off
  • High workloads forcing them to go into work
  • Being concerned about the financial implications of taking time off
  • Colleagues and senior members of staff making them feel guilty for taking time off
  • Not feeling secure enough in their job or feeling threatened by the risk of redundancy
  • Concern that they wouldn’t be able to secure a doctor’s note

Graphic image of a man asleep on a laptop at work

While this related to people who felt physically unwell, the equivalent of 5.8 million UK workers said that they had gone into work when feeling mentally unwell.

In fact, 19% of them said that they were more likely to go into work if they were feeling mentally unwell than they would if they were feeling physically unwell.

What can employers do to tackle presenteeism at work?

The simplest and quickest solution is clearer communication when it comes to absence.

Employers should tell team members that if they are unable to perform at their best, they should stay home. Introducing mental health days will also help.

By improving the perception of illness in the workplace, employees will feel secure that they won’t be seen as weak, lazy or less dedicated for taking time off.

Man blowing his nose whilst working on a laptop

Businesses should move away from unspoken rules and put together clear guidelines that apply to everyone.

The Canada Life survey included suggestions from employees including:

  • Flexible work options
  • A reduced workload
  • Workplace support, such as Employee Assistance Programmes
  • Back-to-work rehabilitation for longer-term conditions

Lack of awareness about workplace support for sickness absence was also seen as an issue. If services are in place, organisations should communicate the fact clearly and regularly.

Presenteeism and occupational health strategies

The occupational health services within an organisation can be used to specifically measure and manage presenteeism at work.

All too often, employers may have no idea that someone has taken a lot of time off sick or is regularly coming into work feeling unwell.

Absence management policies can help organisations to spot trends and uncover any underlying health issues. This allows a business to plan more effectively and provide employees with specific support.

Woman sitting in front of a laptop holding her head in pain

Here are some more suggestions:

  • Develop a policy on both absenteeism & presenteeism and make everyone aware
  • Boost morale in the workplace with team building activities
  • Encourage people to spot the signs if someone is feeling ill or struggling at work
  • Train managers to recognise the symptoms of stress, ill health or mental health problems
  • Encourage managers to communicate positive working and wellbeing practices, including strategies for a better work/life balance
  • Design a benefits plan that prioritises managing mental health in the business

If you’d like to find out how the team at Fusion can help your business implement policies and strategies to tackle presenteeism at work, give us a call today.

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Categories: Absence ManagementHealth & WellbeingOccupational HealthSupport

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