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Presenteeism is the new absenteeism and business need to address the problems with targeted actions

Adrian Lewis, Director, Activ Absence says, “Employees coming into work when they are sick are contributing to a rising trend of ‘presenteeism’

To coincide with World Day for Safety and Health at Work, global office solutions brand, Fellowes, has published new research urging business leaders to tackle the growing problem of ‘presenteeism’ across Britain.

It found that more than half (52%) of UK workers are currently going to work when their performance is negatively affected by work-related health issues – and a third (34%) of workers have admitted they have even considered moving jobs due to the negative impact of their work environment on their health – the highest percentage across Europe.

Adrian Lewis, Director, Activ Absence says, “Employees coming into work when they are sick are contributing to a rising trend of ‘presenteeism’. When a worker is present but not able to perform their function properly, it compromises their performance. With most employees continuing to work at sub-par levels rather than taking days off to recover, this also prolongs the effect of illness.

“Subsequently, businesses are experiencing a detrimental knock-on impact on the quality and volume of work produced, with a further impact on overall business performance.  Those who come in with infectious illnesses also spread bugs and viruses to their colleagues, creating a chain reaction.”

The Fellowes research showed that Brits are amongst the worst affected in Europe, and ‘sick offices’ don’t help, with UK employees suffering regularly from backache (34%), neck ache (25%) and headaches (23%) as a direct result of how they are working. In addition, as many as 1 in 5 (19%) UK workers highlighted weight problems, and 1 in 10 (8%) cited an increase in blood pressure, as a result of poor wellbeing at work.

It also found that while senior managers in the UK identified improving morale (51%), productivity (50%) and creating a healthier workplace (39%) as their top priorities, only 39% of employees are aware that their employers currently offer health and wellbeing initiatives to address these areas. What’s more, almost half (44%) of the UK workforce don’t think their employers are doing enough to look after their general wellbeing.

Absence Management Expert Adrian Lewis of Activ Absence comments: “In recent years, we’ve seen an explosion in initiatives to cut the cost of absence. Unfortunately, few employers have invested in the absence management tools that enable them to uncover the cause of absence in their organisations – so the initiatives are not based on data, and there is virtually no targeted approach to wellbeing.  

“Instead, the approach has been mainly disciplinary, assuming everyone off sick is an absentee or a malingerer.  This is short-sighted. We shouldn’t be scaring genuinely sick people back into work – I’ve even heard of someone with pneumonia too scared to take time off!

“Absence management starts by getting data and taking targeted action – it amazes me when employers offer a yoga class and assume they have wellbeing covered!  There aren’t any short cuts, return to work interviews should be exploratory, not disciplinary, and identifying patterns and trends in your team will tell you what to do next.  Once businesses uncover why people are off sick, they have the data to take preventative action with wellbeing initiatives, and can target the solution to the problem. 

Musculoskeletal problems?  Invest in ergonomic equipment – and check that your health and safety processes are working.  Mental health issues?  Speak to occupational health and train your line managers.  Call in experts if you need to.  The systems that identify patterns and trends will tackle absenteeism anyway, and usually improve engagement, too.  Targeted preventative solutions will also improve productivity – presenteeism on the other hand just costs employers more in the long run.”

Louise Shipley, European Business Team Manager – Workspace Management at Fellowes, said: “Our findings signal serious problems with how organisations are approaching wellbeing and productivity in the workplace. They show a clear lack of awareness around the causes and effects of a presenteeism culture in the office.

“With European businesses already losing a staggering €73 billion annually due to absenteeism, employers simply can’t disregard the worsening problem of presenteeism taking effect. Happy and healthy employees do better work, and more of it, making the bottom-line impact simply too significant to ignore.

“The tools are there for business leaders to tackle presenteeism and help to prevent the widespread workplace health issues that are dragging down productivity and work quality. It’s time for leaders to take the reins and drive a potentially huge impact on their organisations,” concludes Shipley.”  

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