The Perils of Presenteeism

Nicola Mullineux

Nicola Mullineux

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30 Aug 2018

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A recent report by the Office of National Statistics stated that average number of sick days in 2017 was 4.1 per employee. According to the figures, sickness absence has been dropping since 1999, and is now half what it used to be when records began in 1993.

Why have we seen a decrease in sickness absence?

There are a number of factors contributing to the fall in the sickness absence rate. One of these is the fact that healthy life expectancy has gradually been improving over time. However, the more significant factors are the lack of pay for those in the private sector when taking a sickness absence, as well as the dramatic increase in presenteeism.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism, also known as sickness presence, put simply, is when staff turn up for work despite being unwell. The result is often a loss of productivity and an increase in work-related stress.

Is presenteeism really to blame for the decrease in sickness absence?

While it certainly isn’t the only factor, it is definitely the most significant. The private sector is the least likely to pay employees for taking time off sick, consequently, it has a much lower sickness rate than the public sector. The sickness absence rate for the private sector currently stands at 1.7%. A survey by the CIPD earlier this year found that presenteeism has more than tripled since 2010, with over 86% of respondents stating they had witnessed the trend in their business in the last 12 months. Not only that, 69% stated that employees at their company were working during annual leave.

What are the perils of presenteeism?

The most obvious issue that arises from sickness presence is loss of productivity. At first glance you may think productivity is taking less of a hit as the employee has actually turned up to work; however, presenteeism usually means the employee takes longer to get over their illness, and so their work is affected for a longer period. There is also an adverse effect on morale, both on the sick employee and their colleagues. It also poses the risk of spreading illness across the business, resulting in further absences and loss of productivity. Finally, an important, and often overlooked reason for sickness absence is mental health. Reports of stress-related absence are growing more common and are one of the top causes of long-term sickness absence. Coming into work while experiencing a poor state of mental health will only exacerbate a pre-existing issue, yet it is often ignored by businesses as the basic legal requirements are met.

Expert Support

For help combatting presenteeism, supporting your employees, and reducing loss of productivity, contact a Croner expert on 0808 145 3376

About the Author

Nicola Mullineux

Nicola Mullineux, as Group Content Manager, leads a team of employment law content writers who produce guidance and commentary on employment law, case law and key HR developments. She has written articles for national publications for over 10 years and regularly helps to shape employment of the future by taking part in Government consultations on employment law change.

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Nicola Mullineux

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