Record low absence rates sparks presenteeism concerns

UK workers took just 4.3 days off on average last year, the lowest since records began in 1993, a report from the ONS has found. Presenteeism is becoming a major concern.



Yet absence management experts believe this trend could be down to fear and presenteeism rather than a healthier workforce. Adrien Lewis, Direct at Activ Absence, explained that though low absence rates should be welcomed the reasons behind such low numbers needs to investigated. He said: “It’s great to see any reduction in sick days, most notably in the public sector.  We know that this has almost certainly come from concerted efforts to manage sickness absence better.



“My concern is that some employers are still not be getting the balance right – it’s not just about improving the figures, we want staff to be healthy, not scared to take time off.



“I recently heard of a public-sector employee with pneumonia, clearly too sick to work, who was afraid of being disciplined under a sickness absence policy, so went into work anyway. Ironically, the sickness monitoring system being used by that organisation only measured long term absence and could not even identify the ‘odd sickie’ trends which are far more disruptive to the business.” He continued: “Presenteeism is a very real concern.”



TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady added: “We are really a nation of mucus troopers, with people more likely to go to work when ill than stay at home when well. Sickness absence rates have fallen steadily over the past decade, and let us not forget that working people put in billions of pounds worth of unpaid overtime each year.”



The ONS report found that coughs and colds were the most common reason for sickness, accounting for nearly a quarter of all sick days. 11.5% of the sick days were attributed to mental illness.



A 2015 Association of Accounting Technicians survey found that the average Britain clocks up 9024 hours of unpaid overtime over the course of their career. Previous research from Canada Life found that nine out of ten of us go into work when we’re ill, costing businesses much more as illnesses are passed on to colleagues.




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