National Sickie Day | Presenteeism plaguing UK firms as 71% of staff admit to working while unwell due to stigma of sick leave

Presenteeism plaguing UK firms as 71% of staff admit to working while unwell due to stigma of sick leave

On the day that employees are statistically most likely to call in sick, new research reveals that it is, in fact, presenteeism that organisations should really be worried about.

In a poll conducted for ‘National Sickie Day’, HR, payroll and finance expert MHR found that 71% of employees have worked while unwell because of the negative perception of calling in sick. The main concern is it will damage employees’ career progression, reported by nearly three quarters (74%) of respondents.

The findings spotlight a harmful culture of presenteeism across UK organisations, which senior leaders must address – not only for the wellbeing of their employees, but the wellbeing of the business as a whole. Employees that work while unwell are less productive and more prone to making costly errors, which can hurt a company’s bottom line.

While only 20% of employees admitted to having ‘pulled a sickie’ in the last 12 months, the reasons they cited for doing so are concerning. Of those who did admit to this, nearly a quarter (22%) said it was because their company culture made them feel demotivated, meanwhile almost half (46%) put it down to overwhelming workloads.

Technology is an invaluable tool for helping employees to manage workload, especially HR professionals. Digital tools can be embedded to automate routine work processes, helping free up time for more complex, people-oriented issues – such as conflict resolution, engagement, and talent development – that play a huge role in improving employee wellbeing and creating a better company culture.

Jeanette Wheeler, Chief HR Officer at MHR, said: “The findings of our research are alarming and point towards a worrying culture of presenteeism in the workplace. It almost goes without saying that employees should be encouraged to take days off when they are sick – either this is not happening, or the message is not being communicated properly and employees don’t believe it when they are told this. HR teams need to commit themselves to promoting a healthy work-life balance and fostering a positive work culture where employees feel valued and empowered to prioritise their own wellbeing.”

High absence rates could be sign of engagement crisis?

So, while HR should be keeping a keen eye on workers forcing themselves into work when clearly unwell, people laders should still be heeding the warning signs of on the opposite end of the spectrum too.

Pete Cooper, Director of People Partners & DEI at Personio, warned that high absence rates could be a sign of deeper trouble for HR leaders.

He told HR Grapevine:“National Sickie Day marks the day that statistically most people will call in sick to work. And, despite it being flu season, many employers will be right to ask if employees are actually sick, or if they’re pulling a sickie.

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“High absence rates could in fact be an indicator of a serious engagement crisis in an organisation. Research has shown that if employees no longer feel engaged with their job, they can become less dedicated to their role and their organisation, and more likely to call in sick.

“The good news is that there are levers that employers can pull to improve employee engagement, and therefore reduce levels of absenteeism. Employee feedback is a critical example, however our research found that more than one in four (28%) employees are not given a chance to share feedback with leadership on their workplace experience.@

Cooper explained that, by running pulse surveys, businesses could understand what their employees are really thinking. and develop a strategy to improve engagement.

He concluded: “But where feedback is collected, this needs to be a two-way conversation, and leadership needs to communicate with employees to show that feedback is being listened to and taken seriously.”



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