Managing The Presenteeism Problem

Author:Ms Sarah Owbridge
Profession:Brahams Dutt Badrick French LLP

It is common knowledge that sickness absences cost employers money. What is perhaps less well-known is the impact that sickness presences - a function of "presenteeism" - can have.

Studies over the past few years have produced some statistics on the extent of the presenteeism problem. A CIPD study in 2016 found that one third of employers had reported an increase in the numbers of its staff working whilst unwell, whilst a report from Fellowes found that 52% of UK workers admitted they had turned up to work despite being ill.

Although reduced sickness absence levels may be a good thing for businesses in the short-term, the impact of sick staff coming into work instead of staying at home can be significant in the long-term. Employers with a presenteeism problem report around twice the average level of stress-related absence and mental health issues among staff. Reports suggest that presenteeism costs employers 3 times more than sickness absence; Legal and General calculated that a company with 600 employees loses £2 million per year due to it. From an employee's point of view, feeling under pressure to work whilst ill can be bad for morale and lengthen the time it takes to recover.

It is clearly in the interests of staff and their employers to try to tackle presenteeism. As always, prevention is better than cure, and the below measures can help managers to discourage sickness presence before it arises:

Check your policies: A particularly punitive sickness absence policy will do little to encourage staff to take time to recuperate. Take for instance Sports Direct's former "6 strikes and you're out" policy, which listed taking "a period of reported absence" as meriting a strike; perhaps unsurprisingly, staff were reportedly scared to call in sick, and its warehouse had 76 ambulance call-outs for staff in 2 years...

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