Presenteeism could be adding significant strain to UK’s businesses, with employees remaining at work while sick inhibiting their own productivity. According to experts, the pressure to attend at all costs could ultimately cost UK businesses over £77 billion – in part due to the added mental and physical anxiety placed upon staff.
The UK economy is currently facing a sustained period of pressure, thanks to slower than expected growth. Central to this problem is the issue of poor productivity, which continues to plague British businesses.
Now, adding to this stifled productivity, a study of almost 32,000 workers across all UK industries has revealed that employees lose, on average, the equivalent of 30.4 days of productive time annually, due to sick days, or underperformance in the office as a result of ill-health. This is equivalent to each worker losing six working weeks of productive time annually. The results demonstrated high levels of productivity loss across all sectors and organisational sizes, despite some variation across industries.
While working hours missed by the average employee as a result of illness has fallen over the past 12 months, from 3.3 days to 2.7 days, now more staff are attending work while ill or under emotional stress – in what is known as Presenteeism – with workers attending as many as 27.7 days while suffering from sickness, up from 24.2 days in 2016. When translated into monetary terms, the combined economic impact of this ill-health related absence and Presenteeism currently sits at a £77.5 billion a year for the UK economy – a substantial increase on last year’s levels of £73 billion in lost productivity.
This means that rather than improving the health of workers, organisations have simply reframed an issue which ultimately stunts productivity, namely they are ignoring the problem in favour of encouraging higher attendance levels which means that it is becoming culturally unacceptable to take time away from work for any reason. This is further evidenced by the fact that UK workers give back an increasing number of leave days. In 2016, employees gifted employers an extra £17 billion in free work over 2016, by opting not to make full use of their entitled holiday time.
According to the analysis, this increase in Presenteeism demonstrates the importance of having a holistic understanding of employees’ physical and mental health, both in and out of the workplace. These factors ultimately lead to an increasingly stressed workforce, which is more susceptible to illness and likely to go off on long term sickness due to burn out and mental stress. Organisations have a duty of care to their employees to care for their physical and mental wellbeing, so creating a ‘threat culture’ where employees are fearful of taking holiday or being ill indicates that our workplaces are becoming hostile environments which we know is counterproductive to productivity – oxymoronically!
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