UK employees three times more likely to work when ill than to pull a sickie

Seven in ten UK employees – equivalent to 18 million nationally – have gone to work feeling unwell when they should have taken the day off, while less than a quarter (23 percent) say they have taken a day off work sick when they were not actually unwell, indicating that UK employees are three times more likely to go to work unwell than they are to ‘pull a sickie,’ a new report claims. The fourth edition of the Aviva Working Lives Report, which examines the attitudes and experiences of employers and employees on issues affecting the present and future of the UK workplace – also carries a wake-up call to businesses, as more than two in five (43 percent) employees feel their employer puts the results of the company ahead of their health and wellbeing as more than two in five (41 percent) say their work will pile up if they are off sick.

With people continuing to work while they are unwell, it is likely that they are less productive as a consequence and in turn could also affect the health of other employees. The worrying trend comes against the backdrop of a historic fall in the average number of sick days taken annually by UK employees, dropping to a record low of 4.3 days in 2016 compared with 7.2 days in 1993 when tracking began.

The report findings highlight that only 13 percent of employers feel there has been more of a focus on employee health and wellbeing over the past year, while just over one in ten (12 percent) feel there has been an improvement in the working environment over the past year, with employees seeming healthier and happier.

Such views chime with employees’ own assessment of their situation: more than two in five (42 percent) admit they often feel stressed or anxious at work, rising to 46 percent among younger workers (18-34 year olds). Employers could also be underestimating the impact stress has on their employees, as only 23 percent cite this as an issue. Instead, employers view coping with workload (32 percent) and dealing with change (24 percent) as greater challenges faced by their employees.

Of those employers that offer health and wellbeing benefits, more than three in four (77 percent) believe this has had a positive impact on the workforce. Employers also report increased happiness levels (41 percent) among employees with improved morale (32 percent) and productivity (30 percent) as a result of having initiatives in place to keep employees healthy.

Two in three (65 percent) businesses also think the workforce will work more flexibly in five years’ time. Notably, of the 64 percent of businesses who currently offer flexible working, almost seven in ten (68 percent) said their employees were happier as a consequence.

Dr Doug Wright, Medical Director, Aviva UK Health, said: “While every business wants the right level of resource in place, having employees who are unwell at work is a false economy. Businesses need to ensure they create a working culture whereby people do not feel pressurised into coming to work when they are unwell, safe in the knowledge their absence can be effectively managed.

“Presenteeism, driven in part by an increased ‘always-on’ culture, poses a genuine threat to overall business performance through the adverse impact on productivity and morale in the workplace. Businesses should ensure they take the lead on communicating proactively to employees that it’s important to take a step back when unwell and it can be in everyone’s interest.

To view the full Aviva Working Lives Report 2017, click here.

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