October 16, 2015

CIPD study shows increase in presenteeism at work

There has been a marked increase in presenteeism – attending work while sick – in the past year. This is one of the findings of the CIPD’s Absence Management Survey 2015.

It is not a one-off increase – the report found that the problem of employees coming into work when they are ill has increased every year for the past five years.

Nearly a third (31%) of the nearly 600 employers polled reported a rise of presenteeism over the past 12 months. The research, carried out in conjunction with the organisation SimplyHealth, found presenteeism is most prevalent in organisations with a long hours culture and where operational demands are hold more sway than employee wellbeing.

What are employers doing about this rise? Not much, according to the research – more than half (56%) of the participating organisations said they had not taken any steps to discourage employees coming to work when ill. And just under half said that operational demands tend to take precedence over employee health and wellbeing.

This is despite the fact that there is lots of well documented research that shows that employers that take the wellbeing of their staff seriously reap the benefits. And that companies that allow or encourage a presenteeism culture to exist suffer higher levels of stress-related absence and mental health issues.

Figures from the Health and Safety’s Executive’s Labour Force Survey 2014, show that work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 39% of all work related illnesses in 2013/14. They also show that 11.3 million working days were lost in 2013/14 because of employees suffering stress, depression or anxiety. That is an average of 23 per days per individual case of stress, depression or anxiety.

The CIPD report confirms these statistics. Participating employers reporting increased levels of presenteeism are nearly twice as likely (41%) to report a rise in stress-related absences. Mental health also comes under the spotlight in the report. It found that two-fifths of employers reported an increase in employee mental ill-health. What is fuelling the rise? Heavy workloads, management styles and difficult relationships with colleagues were identified as the main causes of stress and anxiety in the workplace.

The research shows that the public sector has seen the biggest increase in absence levels – up from 7.9 days per employee per year in 2014 to 8.7 days in the 2015 survey. The HSE’s Labour Force statistics tell the same story. It found that the highest reported rates of work-related stress, depression and anxiety are in health and social work, education and public administration and defence.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said he is disappointed that the improved economic outlook has not lead to reduced presenteeism. “It’s a real concern that the problem of presenteeism is persisting,” he said. “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.”

Organisations are spending more on employee wellbeing. According to the report, over a third of organisations have increased their spend on wellbeing this year. However, Corinne Williams, head of HR at Simplyhealth, said organisations need to focus more closely on presenteeism. “Organisations should actively discourage presenteeism as part of a wider and carefully-considered wellbeing strategy, as well as exploring the root causes of this trend,” she says.