Research highlights presenteeism challenge for UK employers

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More than half (51 per cent) of UK workers claim their workplaces are affected by a culture of negative judgement around sickness absence, research has revealed.

The study of 1,123 workers by Willis Towers Watson also found 54 per cent of workers believe they are put under pressure to return to work before they have fully recovered from illness or injury. This could contribute to greater levels of presenteeism – turning up for work when unwell – which is thought to affect productivity, morale, and recovery from illness.

Fear of a negative impact on job prospects is the biggest reason workers feel under pressure to return, cited by 50% of respondents, followed by worries about letting colleagues down (46 per cent), and worries over workload and deadlines (35 per cent).

Mike Blake, Director, Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits said:

“Presenteeism can have a significant impact on performance and employers may leave themselves exposed to greater long-term problems if they do not make adequate provision for illness and injury when it first occurs,”

“Businesses are faced with a fine balancing act. They must do their best to tread the line between managing staff back to work as quickly and efficiently as possible while also ensuring they do not work through health conditions. There is also a clear employee engagement issue here – under the umbrella of a more positive sickness culture, businesses should work to educate employees on appropriate procedures for handling sickness, establish strong communication in cases of absence and ensure staff are aware of the treatment options available to them.”

Another potentially concerning finding for businesses is the fact less than half (47 per cent) of UK workers believe their employers provide adequate specialist support, care and advice to help them return to work following a period of long-term absence.

Of those workers who have taken more than four weeks of continuous absence at any point within the last five years – who made up 19 per cent of all respondents – a third claim they did not receive regular communication or support from their employers while off work.

Blake added:

“Good communication with employees is important if employers are to better understand prevailing health issues, provide appropriate support and make workplace adjustments where necessary. This kind of open dialogue is key to establishing a positive culture around absence.

“Services should then be put in place to address need and tackle negative trends. Case management is one service that can provide the support to ensure these benefits are used appropriately, coordinating input from different sources and liaising with both employer and employee to develop an effective return to work plan.”

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  1. Calling it ‘presenteeism’ doesn’t really make it better..!
    It’s about absence from work – why are they off, when will they be back etc. We’ve focused so much on getting them to come in and work and setting triggers to scare them off the sofa and back to the desk, but if they aren’t fit for work then (and if it’s genuine), keep them off a little longer. I’ve done return to work meetings with people who are clearly not fit to work and sent them home again, but then i’ll have the HR dept giving me grief about team absence targets not being met, and pushing me to go down a formal absence/disciplinary route, so for management it can be an even harder journey.
    I had a member of staff who was diagnosed with breast cancer, and in total she had 3 months off work – the HR ‘business partner’ gave me so much grief and threatened to have me disciplined for not bringing her back in for a ‘welfare meeting’ after the 8th week of absence, even though she was still undergoing treatment (even though i’d arranged a fortnightly phone call to see how she was doing).
    When she was signed off to return to work i gave her a phased return and she could work from home for 2 days a week, but still they didn’t like this, but in my opinion, i did the best for her welfare so she was well enough to come back to work, and confident that her condition was managed well enough so she could look after herself and not be stressed out by my constantly chasing/threatening her to return to work.

  2. Workplace wellness and the provision of a healthier environment would be a good place to start

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