Over 90% of UK employees have attended work while sick, new research says

Presenteeism in the UK workforce is rising, with 93% of UK employees saying they have come into work despite being ill, according to new research from insurance company Canada Life.


The research also found over a third (36%) of workers were so worried about taking sick leave they would rather use up their holiday allowance than risk incurring a poor sickness record. 

According to the research, the reasons for coming into work sick include not thinking the illness was serious enough to warrant a day off (76%), having too heavy a workload to take time off (31%), worrying about the financial implications of taking time off (20%), other colleagues making them feel guilty about taking sick leave (19%) and feeling threatened by the risk of redundancy (13%). 

Over a third (33%) of employees said they would come into work with flu, and 14% would even come in if they had a serious stomach bug. A further 80% would not take time-off for stress-related illnesses. 

The research found this extreme presenteeism has led to 81% employees catching illnesses from colleagues. It is also linked to poor productivity, with 82% saying they performed worse when unwell. 

Over a third (37%) of employees said they were not aware of any form of workplace support in terms of sickness absence in their organisation. 

Paul Avis, marketing director at Canada Life Group, said: “It is worrying the UK’s workers are so reluctant to take time off even when they are genuinely unwell. Anxieties about a heavy workload, risk of redundancy and criticism from other colleagues are preventing employees from taking the sick leave that they need, yet are also no doubt exacerbating certain conditions, particularly those that are stress-related.”

He added: “Employees should not be discouraged from taking time off when they are genuinely unwell, as presenteeism creates not only an unpleasant working environment but also one that is counter-productive. Staff need to feel that they won’t be penalised for taking sick leave and organisations should ensure they communicate their support.”

The research was carried out in March 2013, surveying 1,001 people nationally.