It’s been revealed that the average number of sickness absence days that UK workers take has almost halved since 1993.
The figures from the Office for National Statistics show that employees took an average of 4.1 sickness absence days in 2017 compared with 7.2 days in 1993. The number of days taken started to fall in 1999.
On the surface, this trend may look encouraging for employers. Less time off should mean healthier, happier and more productive employees. However, it’s likely that this isn’t the case.
It’s more likely to be down to ‘presenteeism’, or people coming into work when they are ill. The CIPD reported that cases of presenteeism have more than tripled since 2010, with 86% of over 1,000 respondents to a 2018 survey saying they had observed presenteeism in their organisation over the last 12 months, compared with 72% in 2016 and just 26% in 2010.
The reason for this rise could be down to several factors, but a lack of job security, pressure from a high workload and financial insecurity are all reasons that have been suggested.
Employers can act to reduce presenteeism however, and look to maintain a genuinely healthy workforce.
Embrace and promote flexible working
Many employers claim to promote flexible working, but in reality only offer very slight changes, for example starting and finishing the day an hour earlier. This is a start, but to prevent burnout and encourage a healthy work-life balance, employers should give staff the opportunity to work from home and work hours outside the usual office times.
What’s more, a working culture needs to be established where flexible working is not frowned upon. This is a contributor to presenteeism – when simply being seen in the office is somehow more valued than actually being productive. Managers need to encourage flexible working and use it themselves to set the example.
Have a clear sickness absence policy
Employers should set a clear policy on their organisation’s approach to sickness absence. It should state that employees must not come to work if they are unwell, and will not be treated unfairly if they are absent for a genuine reason.
Policies on medical appointments should also be covered. Be sure to conduct return-to-work interviews when employees come back, so any patterns can be recorded. As with all company policies, it should be communicated to employees so they know what is and isn’t acceptable.
Look for the early signs of stress
Creating an open culture based on trust between management and employees is vital to spotting signs of stress. An employee suffering from stress but still feeling compelled to come to work will only make themselves worse, leading to longer term problems.
Regular appraisals, planning sessions and informal chats are a good opportunity to bring up any issues. Simply asking “how have you been lately?” can give an employee the chance to open up. It’s vital to listen and show empathy in order to offer the support needed.
Evaluate your Employee Wellbeing Programme
A valuable Employee Wellbeing Programme should be able to offer employees and managers access to counsellors and helplines for advice on many issues, such as anxiety, bereavement, or financial problems.
Having such a service in place can help prevent stress and other mental health issues by offering people practical advice and additional third-party support. This is turn should reduce presenteeism by showing staff that they don’t need to just “get on with it” and keep turning up to work regardless.