Nearly a third of employers have reported an increase in people coming to work while they are ill.
Furthermore, longer hours and a focus on operational demands over employee wellbeing are fuelling an increase in presenteeism.
Just under a third (31%) of the 600 employers surveyed in the annual Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) / Simplyhealth Absence Management Survey saw an increase in presenteeism in the last 12 months. It also showed that presenteeism was more likely to have increased where there was a culture in which working long hours were seen to be the norm, and where operational demands took precedence over employee wellbeing.
Employers that noticed an increase in presenteeism were nearly twice as likely as those that had not reported an increase in stress-related absence, and more than twice as likely to report an increase in mental health problems amongst its staff.
However, nearly three-fifths (56%) of organisations that reported an increase in presenteeism had not taken any steps in order to discourage it.
Despite this, over two-fifths (41%) of organisations have seen an increase in reported mental health problems (such as anxiety and depression) over the last twelve months.
Absence and presenteeism was particularly acute in the public sector, where pressure was mounting on employees to deliver services in the face of austerity cuts.
While there was little change in overall levels of absence (up from 6.6 days per employee per year in 2014 to 6.9 days in the 2015 survey), the public sector had seen a bigger increase, from 7.9 days to 8.7 days. However, this level of public sector absence was still noticeably lower than the figures the CIPD recorded before the recession.
CIPD head of public policy Ben Willmott said: "This is the fifth year in a row in which thirty per cent or more of employers have reported an increase in employees coming into work when they are ill. It's a real concern that the problem of presenteeism is persisting, as we might have expected it to drop during the economic recovery as people tend to feel more secure in their jobs.
The CIPD advised there should be a clear focus on values and organisational culture, quality of leadership and management, as well as early access to good quality occupational health and rehabilitation support. Training of line managers was essential to this.
"The problem may well be a hangover from the recession but we need to address the issue of presenteeism head-on. 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, he added."
The technology to improve employees’ wellbeing is already here. But it is now in employers’ hands to make sure it is used to create successful corporate wellness programmes
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