More employees than ever coming to work despite being sick

It would appear that ‘presenteeism’ rather than absenteeism is the order of the day, as recent research by risk insurance group Canada Life has found that 93% of employees will come in to work despite being ill, and over a third would rather use their annual leave to get better than have a sick day on their employment record.

This research has been backed up by figures from the Office for National Statistics, which show that the average number of sick days for employees fell from 5.6 days in 2007 to just 4.1 in 2012.

The most common reason that people came into work when they were unwell, which accounted for 76% of respondents, was that they “didn’t think it was serious enough to take time off”.

Other reasons given in the research for coming in when they felt sick included “my work load is too great for me to have time off, even if I’m unwell”; “I worry about the financial implications of taking time off”; “other colleagues make me feel guilty for taking sick leave”; and “I feel too threatened by the risk of redundancy to take time off when ill”.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the Canada Life survey found that 81% of employees said that they had caught bugs from employees with a fifth of employees saying that “it happens all the time”. Ironically, those employees that came into work whilst sick, and passed illnesses on to their colleagues, have indirectly affected productivity of the workplace. 82% of employees concerned that their work performance went down when they felt unwell.

When asked why the employees didn’t go to their employer when they felt too ill to come in, the survey found that over a third felt that they had no-one within the organization to turn to when they were ill and, furthermore, 13% believed that their employer definitely had no support for ill workers in place.

Commenting on the research, Paul Avis, Marketing Director of Canada Life Group, 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 some conditions, particularly those which are stress-related.”

As a result of the research, Mr Avis urged employers to have greater clarity on their sickness and absence policies, and ensure that the different options available for long-term absenteeism through illness was communicated to all employees.