When employers think about employee wellbeing, they often think about employee sickness absence and how to manage and reduce this. However, research demonstrates that presenteeism is just as big a risk to businesses.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism is when employees come to work but experience decreased productivity and quality of work due to health problems.

A study by health insurer Vitality has found that more than 40% of employees said their work was being affected by health issues – a figure that’s risen by a third over the last five years. The study found that people are putting aside both mental and physical health problems to attend work.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) also found evidence of unhealthy trends in the workplace in its 2019 annual ‘Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey’. The CIPD survey found that more than four-fifths (83%) of its respondents had observed presenteeism in their organisation, and a quarter (25%) said the problem had got worse since the previous year.

Research conducted by Group Risk insurer Canada Life also shows that nine out of ten of workers say they have gone into work when feeling ill, the equivalent to 29 million employees and that casual presenteeism’ is on the rise with one in five admitting they monitor work emails in their spare time and check emails first thing in the morning.

Why are employees doing this?

Canada Life’s research show the main reasons employees gave for going into work when unwell are:
1. Feeling their illness doesn’t warrant a day off (58%)
2. High workloads have forced them to go into work when unwell (27%)
3. Concerned about the financial implications of taking time off (23%)
4. Not wanting to handover important work to colleagues unless really necessary (18%)
5. Made to feel guilty for taking time off by other colleagues/senior members of staff (18%)
6. They don’t feel secure enough in their job/feel threatened by the risk of redundancy to take time off for illness (12%)
7. Concerned that they won’t be able to secure a doctor’s note (8%)

What can employers do?

In some circumstances presenteeism may be a result of workplace culture. Employers could improve the perception of illness in the workplace so employees feel secure that they won’t be seen as weak, lazy or less dedicated for taking time off with a short-term illness. Promoting a more positive attitude to health and wellbeing could be hugely beneficial to a business.

There are a number of measures which could be taken to help employees feel more comfortable taking time off when they need it to recuperate, such as:

• Flexible working
• A reduced workload
• Less pressure to be ‘always on’ and working
• Workplace support, such as an Employee Assistance Programme and ‘Early intervention’ services

Having the measures in place is not always enough though, the Canada Life research illustrated a lack of awareness about workplace support for sickness absence. Nearly half (47%) of employees said they were not aware of any form of support in their organisation with only 17% saying their employer had an Employee Assistance Programme in place. This highlights the importance of not only having the services in place but communicating them clearly and regularly to staff in order to improve employee wellbeing.

Wingate Benefit Solutions can help you to develop an effective health and wellbeing strategy, to include support services to help your business promote wellbeing in the workplace and re-assure staff that support is in place when they need it the most. If you would like to find out more, please contact us at Wingate.

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