Presenteeism concern for half of workers

A culture of negative judgement around sickness absence risks reducing productivity and increasing time off warns Willis Towers Watson.

New research from the consultancy shows 51 per cent of UK workings think their workplaces suffer from a culture of negative judgement around sickness absence, with 54 per cent thinking they are put under pressure to return to work before they have fully recovered from illness or injury.

WTW says this could contribute to greater levels of presenteeism – turning up for work when unwell – potentially affecting 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 per cent of respondents, followed by worries about letting colleagues down, a concern for 46 per cent, and worries over workload and deadlines, a concern for 35 per cent.

The research found 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 – 33 per cent claim they did not receive regular communication or support from their employers while off work.

WTW Health & Benefits director Mike Blake says: “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.

“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.”