United Kingdom

Presenteeism growing issue for UK businesses

June 2017


Presenteeism, where staff go to work despite illness, is becoming more of an issue for British businesses than absenteeism, it has been claimed.

According to research by Aviva UK Health last month, UK staff are significantly 'more likely' to go to work than 'pull a sickie'.

Aviva's 'Working Lives' report suggests that workload fears and workplace pressure were the main reasons for staff working despite illness.

The report described the trend as a 'false economy' and urged businesses to create a working culture which did not pressure staff into coming into work when they were unwell.

"Presenteeism, driven in part by an increased 'always-on' culture, poses a genuine threat to overall business performance through the adverse impact on productivity and morale in the workplace," said Dr Doug Wright, medical director at Aviva UK Health.

But presenteeism is giving rise to concerns around lost productivity, too. A recent survey by VitalityHealth found that UK businesses are losing the equivalent of one month's working time a year due to presenteeism.

The study by VitalityHealth as part of their Britain's Healthiest Workplace report, looked at exposure to health risks and lifestyle factors including exercise and diet, as well as clinical factors such as blood pressure or cholesterol. 68 per cent of respondents were found to have at least two risk factors, whilst up to a third were found to suffer from three or more.

In particular, the study identified that businesses were losing around 27.5 days a year due to employees continuing to work despite illness, resulting in lowered productivity levels.

Amy Froude, Principal at Aon Employee Benefits said: "Presenteeism - unlike absenteeism - is hard to identify and therefore placing a figure on how it impacts the productivity or the functioning of an employee is not an easy task.

"However, companies are now starting to take this issue seriously, with Aon seeing an upward trend of companies considering how they invest in tackling presentieesm through their employee benefits package."

VitalityHealth estimates the costs to businesses amounts to £73bn per year.

Commenting on the findings, Shaun Subel, strategy director at VitalityHealth said the results not only demonstrated the scale of the UK's productivity challenge, but pointed to an "exciting alternative" into ways employers can manage the problem:

"Traditionally, we have seen that employers looking to boost the productivity of their business often focus on measures such as the automation of human tasks or process re-engineering to pursue efficiencies," he said. "While these measures are important they have definite trade-offs in terms of cost, sustainability, and potentially being perceived negatively by employees. Health and wellbeing, on the other hand, is an area where this trade-off does not exist - while wellbeing interventions can be of relatively low cost compared to the alternatives, they deliver tangible improvements in employee engagement and productivity, and are typically viewed positively by employees."

Froude urged companies to review their employee benefits package and start the process of tackling presenteeism head on.

"Employers should be checking that staff are aware of the benefits on offer and if their communications strategies are working. They should be checking if their screening programme adequately detects onset of illness or conditions and ensuring that the right signposts are in place for employees to access help and guidance with stress-related illness.

"In fact, some employers are considering the benefits of a virtual GP service so employees have access to a doctor at the touch of a button," she added.



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