Wellbeing | 'Too busy to be sick': study reveals worrying presenteeism

'Too busy to be sick': study reveals worrying presenteeism

Despite the workplace health and wellbeing trend being a core priority for UK HR practitioners over the last few years, it seems that employees working in SMEs are still putting personal illness and injury on the back-burner.

New research compiled by Bupa and Babylon Health found that seven in ten employees have delayed seeking medical advice when they ought to, despite the majority of business leaders having no problem with employees taking the time off to seek medical advice.

Despite employers prioritising workplace health and wellbeing, it seems that employees still aren’t being open, with 32% playing down their illness or injury and 72% feeling too busy to miss work.

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Mark Allan, Commercial Director at BUPA UK said that employers are competing against a strong strain of resistance from those employees “who will strive to soldier on”. He added that this employee resistance is heightened in SMEs.

“As an SME, your people are your greatest asset, which is why giving colleagues multiple routes to get help can only be a good thing – be it over the phone [or] online through clinically approved resources," he said.

“And if you can encourage greater self-care by providing convenient solutions, we believe companies will really benefit by having a healthier, happier workforce."

"This is of course a good in itself but has also been shown to boost productivity in the long run.”

The research identified male workers between the ages of 18 and 34-years-old, Londoners and those employed in SMEs as more likely than average to postpone seeking medical help when they need it.

The data also sheds light on those in manual roles, citing them as more likely to downplay illness or injuries.

And the occurrence of presenteeism in the workplace can be extremely damaging not only for the individual’s health but for business too.

The Institute for Employment Studies explain that the term presenteeism has evolved over time. In 2005, Aronsson and Gustafsson defined sickness presenteeism as something that “designated the phenomenon of people, despite complaints and ill health that should prompt rest and absence from work, still tuning up at their jobs.”

So, if workers turn up to the office sick, their output is likely to be poor and negatively impact on the business. Aside from this, it could also have longer-term impacts on their health.

BUPA and Babylon’s research correlates with previous research from Holloway.co.uk which found that 92% of Brits have gone into work despite being sick, with fears of not getting paid accountable as the top reason.

The survey also unearthed other concerning reasons why staff went into work despite being sick:

  1. I was worried I would not be paid – 51%

  2. I was scared I’d get into trouble – 22%

  3. I didn’t want to fall behind with my workload – 11%

  4. I thought I could power through my illness – 9%

  5. I had already called in sick too many times – 6%

So, the key takeaway for HR is to educate employees on the importance of taking time off sick when they need it and explain the impact of ignoring illness.

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