A new study conducted by Love Energy Savings has found that more than 80% of British employees still continue to work when they are ill.
Less than one-fifth of British workers (17%) admit to taking sick days when they’re ill and there is a widening margin when it comes to age groups.
Young people are the most likely to come to work when they’re sick, as a staggering 92% of 18 to 24-year-olds admit to working when ill. In contrast, we can see that it’s more common for workers to take time off work when they’re sick as they get older, with numbers dropping to 84% for 25 to 34-year-olds and 80% for 35 to 44-year-olds.
Presenteeism, or working when ill, is an issue that the UK has been dealing with for years. The Office of National Statistics found in their latest report that in 2017, the UK had the lowest sickness absence rate on record, with almost twice as many people taking sick days in 1993. Unfortunately, this is not due to a healthier workforce but fewer employees taking sick leave.
4 out of 5 private sector organisations have observed presenteeism in the last year and one-quarter report it has increased during this time period. Despite this, only one-third of private sector companies and less than a quarter (23%) of the public sector organisations are taking action to combat it.
‘Leaveism’ – staff using their holiday days when ill – is another problem, with 35% of organisations reporting that employees use annual leave when unwell. Again, only 27% of organisations across public and private sectors have taken steps to address the issues.
Love Energy Savings found that the number one cause for presenteeism is that workers don’t want to let their team down (21%).
For many industries, if an employee is absent from work, for any reason, it’s up to the rest of the team to pick up the slack. Even when an absence is wholly justified, nobody wants to feel as though they are putting more pressure on their colleagues by increasing their workload.
But it’s not just a sense of camaraderie that puts people off calling in sick. 10% of people said they worked while ill because of pressure from an employer. Whether it’s the fear of being unwarrantedly lumped into the ‘pulling a sickie’ pile or simply having an unreasonable boss, British workers feel like pressure from their superior forces them to grin and bear it.
Other causes of presenteeism include:
- A lack of sick pay
- Overwhelming workload
- Fear of losing their job
- To save on sick days
- A sense of job security
- Loyalty to the company
- Financial worries
- Struggles with mental health such as depression or anxiety
“Illness is something that we all have to deal with,” says People Manager, Karen Ball from Love Energy Savings. “It’s only natural to get sick and isn’t something anyone should feel guilty about”.
“The problems start when employees feel like they can’t take time off to recover and end up burning out. It’s vital to make sure your staff aren’t intimidated into working when they shouldn’t be and are comfortable enough to give themselves a necessary break. By promoting self-care in the workplace, you’ll help your employees understand that it’s okay to take a sick day.”