According to a new report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), an estimated 137 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in the UK in 2016. This equated to approximately 4.3 days per worker which is the lowest recorded number since the series began in 1993. Back then, it was 7.2 days per worker. The optimistic among us might say we’re healthier, but in reality the decrease in figure is down to increasing numbers of presenteeism. And the UK is among one of the worse culprits in Europe.
Nearly three quarters of employers admit to seeing an increase in the amount of people coming to work while sick, and it’s a worrying trend. It means that, for whatever reason, employees are feeling pressured to come into work if they’re feeling unwell or stressed. If employees are working through their illness, they’ll also likely be prolonging the sickness and working to less than their usual levels of productivity.
What is presenteeism?
Presenteeism is the act of employees coming to work whilst unwell and therefore are not performing at their optimum capacity; they’re not working productively. Commonly, this is because of an existing culture within the workplace where it’s discouraged to take time off regardless of health; it could also be because the business has not properly planned for illness so the resource is not there to cover anyone who is unexpectedly absent.
Why should you care about it?
Research from the CIPD shows that the cost of presenteeism to businesses is twice the cost of absenteeism. When an unwell worker comes into work, it not only compromises their performance and prolongs their illness; they also risk infecting others too. The spread of bugs and viruses can then lead to a chain reaction where entire teams are under-performing and producing a sub-standard quality of work.
What can you do to combat it?
Absence management should always start with looking at the data and exploring the reasons why people take time off and why they feel the need to come into work unwell. Once you’re in a position to start identifying trends and patterns, you can begin considering measures that are likely to improve levels of presenteeism in your workplace. (These measures must not be disciplinary!) The data should give you enough that you can start to plan for appropriate wellbeing initiatives to combat it.
If you’re looking to build a wellbeing programme from scratch you’ll need to get the buy-in from senior management as early as possible to ensure that employees feel comfortable about taking on the initiatives. Feel free to call on the expertise of external experts who can add value in a variety of ways. The initiatives should be broad and diverse so as to appeal to all your employees whose interests and personal motivations will be wide-ranging.
Surveys will help you to measure and track how employees are reacting to the initiatives on a qualitative basis. At the end of 6, 12, 18 months you can then use this data alongside quant absence data to be able to deliver hard facts to senior management about the programme performance and how the business is benefiting from it.
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