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A quarter of employees would not miss work unless hospitalised

A “stiff upper lip” culture of presenteeism is having a negative impact on the British workforce

Nearly a quarter (23%) of UK workers would only take time off work if they were hospitalised and had no other choice, according to research from Canada Life Group Insurance.

The survey of 1,004 British employees found that around seven million people nationally avoid taking any time off sick unless they absolutely have to. Almost half (47%) of those polled said they would come into work with a stomach bug, and 55% would go to work if they had the flu, despite the possibility of this illness spreading to their co-workers. In total, 89% reported that they have gone into work when feeling ill.

When asked why they went into work sick, 69% said they did not think their problem was serious enough to warrant a sick day, and 22% had financial concerns. However, the culture of the workplace also played a role, with 34% concerned that their workload was too high for a day off and 12% being made to feel guilty by their colleagues and senior staff.

Employees were worried that their employer would think they were weak (17%), lazy (14%) or undedicated (13%) if they chose to stay at home when unwell.

This culture of presenteeism could be having a negative effect on the health of employees, with half (48%) stating they thought they had become unwell because of a colleague’s illness on more than one occasion.

Paul Avis, marketing director at Canada Life Group Insurance, said employers need to be very clear about when employees should be coming into work. “People suffering from illnesses like flu and stomach bugs are unlikely to be productive and risk making their colleagues unwell as well by struggling into work,” he said. “We need to be clearer with employees - they should only come in to work when fully fit and able to do so, be it physically or mentally.

“One of the key problems appears to be that many employees don’t think their illnesses are serious enough to warrant taking time off. Employers must do more to show they are serious about supporting employee health.

“A 'stiff upper lip' culture of presenteeism still pervades the British workforce,” he added.