A survey by the CIPD and Simplyhealth found that 86% of people have observed presenteeism (the act of coming to work while unwell) in the past 12 months. This compares with 72% in 2016 and 26% in 2010.
The Health and Wellbeing at Work survey also found that ‘leaveism’ (where employees use annual leave to work) is a growing problem. More than two-thirds (69%) of respondents reported that leaveism has occurred in their organisation over the past year.
And yet few businesses are challenging the issue, the research revealed. Just 25% of respondents that have experienced presenteeism said their organisation has taken steps to discourage it over the past year, a figure that has almost halved since 2016 (48%). Similarly, only 27% of those who have experienced leaveism said their company is taking action to tackle it.
Presenteeism is associated with increases in reported common mental health conditions as well as stress-related absence, which are among the top causes of long-term sickness absence. However, just 58% said their organisation is currently meeting the basic legal requirements for reducing stress in the workplace.
Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said that employers must tackle the underlying causes. “The survey shines a light on the shocking scale of presenteeism and leaveism we have in the UK, as people feel under even more pressure at work,” she said.
“To encourage a healthy workplace, organisations need to look beyond sickness absence rates alone and develop a solid, evidence-based understanding of the underlying causes of work-related stress and unhealthy behaviour like presenteeism. Without this evidence base efforts to support employees and improve their health and wellbeing will be short-lived.”
Leaveism was found to be less common in businesses that are more focused on employee wellbeing. Despite this, 18% of respondents reported that their organisation isn’t doing anything to improve employee health and wellbeing, compared with just 8% in 2016.
“It’s positive to see that employers who are taking action against unhealthy workplace practices are seeing the benefits of doing so, but we know that employee wellbeing is still too low down the agenda for many other organisations,” Suff added.
“Put simply, a reactive ad hoc approach to wellbeing is not enough. If employers want to build a workforce that is happy, healthy and productive the wellbeing agenda needs to be a priority, and employee wellbeing practices must be integrated in the organisation’s day-to-day operations.”
The Health and Wellbeing at Work survey polled 1,021 HR and L&D professionals.