New research of 1,300 employees published by the independent job site, CV Library, has found that two thirds of UK workers turn up at the office when they are sick, despite the fact the majority of them (84.3%) believe that employees shouldn’t come to work unwell.

It appears that guilt is the main driving force – almost 7 out of 10 employees (68.3%) said they feel guilty if they take any sick days.

The research found that the average employee (66.4%) only takes between one to two sick days a year – a third of the number of days (6.9) per employee reported in the CIPD’s latest annual absence management survey.

The report highlighted the negative impact of people coming to work sick – 86.5% of workers said they felt less productive at work when they are unwell and they risk spreading germs to their colleagues.

However, it seems that the attitude of some companies towards sick employees could be at the root of the problem. Over half said their employer does not send them home when they feel unwell – which could be encouraging this culture of presenteeism.

Over a third (34.2%) of employees said their managers even put pressure on them to return to work early and a further 44.7% said their employer questions their sickness when they are ill.

Worse still, it seems that over half (52.9%) of managers still contact their employees whilst they are off sick, adding extra pressure and not giving staff time, and space, to relax and recover.

I agree with Lee Biggins, founder and managing director of CV-Library, who pointed out that breeding a culture that encourages people to come into work when sick is not beneficial to employees or businesses. Sick employees should be advised to go home and recover, so they can return to work happy, engaged and ready to contribute value to the business.

Biggins also stressed that managers must reassure staff that taking time out to recuperate is ok and workers shouldn’t feel under pressure to return to work before they are ready. 

Unfortunately, this research has shown that guilt and pressure is present in many workplaces but surely the key to tackling the UK’s sickness problem is not to brow-beat genuinely sick people back to work and make them feel guilty? Surely, it is common knowledge that presenteeism is bad for everyone – the business, customers, co-workers and the employee?

Illness is best managed sensibly, with companies allowing people to work from home who are infectious and yet want to work.  Employees also need to be supported with wellbeing initiatives that will encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Monitoring and tracking sickness can also help – particularly if such a system is visible to all and entirely transparent. Interestingly, employees surveyed by CV Library said they only took one to two days off a year, three times less than the average recorded by the CIPD – I wonder if this is really the case?

We find that many companies and their employees underestimate the true extent of their sickness problems. They are often horrified when they start to measure it and count the cost to business productivity.

Simply having a transparent record of sickness will reduce absence figures. Managers can also see trends, patterns and early warning signs about sickness emerging so they can take action before problems escalate.  They can engage staff  in sensitive conversations to find out what might be the issue and suggest interventions that may reduce the risk of long term absences occurring.


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