Presenteeism leads a quarter of UK workers not to take a sick day unless hospitalised 

A quarter (23 percent), or 7 million UK workers, wouldn’t take a sick day unless they were hospitalised or had no other choice, claims a new survey by Canada Life Group. Nine in ten (89 percent) UK workers say they’ve gone into work when feeling ill, a proportion which is virtually unchanged compared to 2016 (90 percent), suggesting employers’ efforts to improve wellbeing are failing to reduce presenteeism. The issue is pronounced, with the survey indicating that 47 percent of respondents would come into work with a stomach bug and more than half (55 percent) would go into work if they had the flu – despite the high chance of this illness spreading to their co-workers.

Half (48 percent) of workers say they have become unwell due to a colleague’s illness on more than one occasion. The main reason employees cite for going into work when unwell is feeling their illness doesn’t warrant a day off, identified by 69 percent of respondents. A third (34 percent) say high workloads have forced them to go into work when unwell, and 22 percent say they were motivated by financial concerns.


Reasons why employees have come into work when ill:

Even though I felt unwell, I didn’t think it was serious enough to warrant a day off 69 percent
My workload is too great for me to have time off, even if I feel unwell 34 percent
I worry about the financial implications of taking time off 22 percent
Other colleagues/senior members of staff make me feel guilty for taking time off even if I’m ill 12 percent
I don’t feel secure enough in my job/I feel too threatened by the risk of redundancy to take time off for illness 11 percent
I didn’t think I would be able to secure a doctor’s note 3 percent


Improving perceptions of illness in the workplace

The research also highlights that some employees are worried about how they would be perceived for taking time off due to illness, with this fear also contributing to presenteeism. Almost a fifth (17 percent) of respondents say they worry about coming across as weak for taking time off with a short-term illness. An additional 14 percent say they worry about being viewed as lazy, and 13 percent worry about being seen as not dedicated.

There is a lack of awareness among employees about workplace support for sickness absence. More than two in five (43 percent) respondents say they are not aware of any form of sickness absence support in their organisation, while 14 percent say their employer definitely doesn’t offer anything.

Just 10 percent say their employer has an Employer Assistance Programme in place, which is a crucial tool for providing preventative and practical health support in the workplace. Having services in place and communicating this regularly to staff is vital for improving workplace health and wellbeing.

Paul Avis, Marketing Director at Canada Life Group Insurance, commented: “It is incredibly worrying it would take something as serious as being hospitalised to dissuade a quarter of British employees from going into work, showing that a “stiff upper lip” culture of presenteeism still pervades the British workforce. People suffering from illnesses like flu and stomach bugs are unlikely to be productive and risk making their colleagues unwell as well by struggling into work. We need to be clearer with employees – they should only come in to work when fully fit and able to do so, be it physically or mentally.”