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Presenteeism Is On The Rise In The U.K But Who Actually Benefits?

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism is working:

  • when you are ill
  • excessive hours with a reluctance to take time off.

Presenteeism is an accelerating trend in the U.K. The CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Well-being at Work survey states that Presenteeism more than tripled between 2010 and 2016 and 86% of respondents to the 2018 survey said they had observed presenteeism in their organisation over the last 12 months, compared with 72% in 2016 and just 26% in 2010.

The BBC recently reported on a study by Vitality that found staff were putting aside both mental and physical health problems to attend work and more than 40% of all employees said their work was being affected by health problems – a figure that’s risen by a third over the last five years.

These studies show that not only is presenteeism on the rise in the U.K but that it has a detrimental impact on the well-being of workers and on productivity, with staff not well enough to perform to their optimum, longer recovery times from illnesses, the increased risk of passing on illnesses to co-workers, a decline in morale and serious health and safety implications.  

The increase in presenteeism is worrying for both employers and workers. The CIPD/Simplyhealth survey suggests that increased presenteeism is associated with rises in mental health and stress-related absences.

What steps can organisations take to stop this disturbing trend?

  • implementing a health and wellbeing strategy with a preventative approach and practices to promote the workforce’s well-being.
  • encouraging and incentivising managers to lead by example to show that excessive working hours are not expected or required, by leaving work on time and not sending emails or making calls to staff out of office hours.
  • awareness training for managers and staff to enable a better understanding of mental wellbeing in the workplace.
  • fostering a culture of openness which encourages staff to talk to managers about issues that may be concerning them which can help to prevent issues escalating.
  • practical initiatives to promote better mental and physical health such as water stations, a cycle to work scheme and relaxation areas.
  • conducting regular staff surveys that include questions about workload, job role and working hours: they can provide helpful insights into why employees are working excessive hours: this may also highlight particular “groups” of employees where presenteeism is more prevalent.
  • introducing an employee assistance programme through which staff can access advice and information confidentially.
  • implement an effective return to work programme, ensuring that the link between effective absence management and presenteeism is carefully monitored.

Employers have a duty of care to look after the health and well-being of their employees. There may be some occasions where presenteeism might be of benefit to both the employer and the employee, such as part of a carefully managed rehabilitation to work programme or a balanced integration into work for people with chronic health conditions. However, overall the argument for a healthy, engaged workforce who do not feel pressurised to work when they are not well, is clearly in the interests of all.

If you would like further guidance or support on this matter or require advice on other people management matters please contact Clover HR info@cloverhr.co.uk

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