Four-fifths of British employees continue to work when sick

A new study conducted by Love Energy Savings claims that more than 80 percent of British employees still continue to work when they are ill or sick. Love Energy Savings investigated which groups were most likely to continue to work when ill, with less than one-fifth of British workers (17 percent) admitting 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 92 percent 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 percent for 25 to 34-year-olds and 80 percent 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.

According to the CIPD, 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 percent) of the public sector organisations are taking action to combat it. ‘Leaveism’ – staff using their holiday days when ill – is another problem, with 35 percent of organisations reporting that employees use annual leave when unwell. Again, only 27 percent of organisations across public and private sectors have taken steps to address the issues.


What is causing workers to deny themselves sick days?

According to the report, the number one cause for presenteeism is that workers don’t want to let their team down (21 percent). 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 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 percent of people said they worked while ill because of pressure from an employer. Whether it’s the fear of being 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 cited 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