Problem of sick staff coming into work increases for fifth year in a row

One in three employers have reported an increase in staff coming to work while they are ill, the CIPD Absence Management Survey 2015 has revealed.

Nearly a third (31 per cent) of organisations reported a rise in staff presenteeism over the last year, but more than half (56 per cent) of survey respondents admitted that they hadn’t taken any steps to discourage this kind of behaviour.

The survey of 600 employers, representing more than 1.5 million staff and conducted in partnership with Simply Health, revealed that this is the fifth consecutive year that the number of employees attending work despite being sick has risen.

The research found that presenteeism is more likely to occur in organisations where long working hours are the norm and operational demands take precedence over employee well-being.

Employers who report an increase in presenteeism are nearly twice as likely (41 per cent) to also report an increase in stress-related absence. The percentage of employers reporting this type of sickness absence rises to 51 per cent in public sector organisations where the austerity cuts have taken a huge toll.

These organisations are also more likely to report increases in reported mental health issues, according to the report.

While there is little change in the level of overall sickness absence, up to 6.9 days in 2015 from 6.6 days in 2014, Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said: “It’s a real concern that the problem of presenteeism is persisting.

“We might have expected it to drop during the economic recovery as people tend to feel more secure in their jobs.”

Willmott said that despite employment over the last year being strong, people are still under pressure to perform and live up to business demands as they fear losing their job.

According to the report, more than a third of organisations have increased their well-being spend this year, and yet just under half report that operational demands tend to take precedence over employee health and well-being.

“The message to businesses is clear: if you want your workforce to work well, you have to take steps to keep them well and this means putting employee health above operational demands,” Willmott added.

This year, the report also revealed a sharp rise in the number of days lost to “illegitimate” absence, up from 3 per cent in 2014 to 14 per cent in 2015.

Jill Miller, research adviser at the CIPD and co-author of the report, said some people may be ‘pulling sickies’ due to conflicting demands from home and work, and organisations offering flexible working and leave for family circumstances were less likely to report non-genuine absence in their top causes of absence.

“The value of such practices is likely to grow as demographic changes increase the caring responsibilities of employees,” the report concluded.