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Workers feel bosses put performance ahead of health

While staffing levels are important, presenteeism creates a "false economy"

More than two-fifths (43%) of employees feel their boss puts business performance ahead of their health and wellbeing, according to a report from Aviva.

Working Lives surveyed 500 employers and 2,000 employees in the private sector, and found that only 13% of employers felt there's been more of a focus on employee health and wellbeing over the past year. Just 12% thought that there's been an improvement in their working environment over the past year.

Out of the businesses that do invest in health and wellbeing, more than three in four (77%) believed this has had a positive impact on the workforce. Employers also reported increased happiness levels (41%) among staff, with improved morale (32%) and productivity (30%).

However, presenteeism (the act of going to work when unwell) was found to be common in the UK. More than two-thirds (69%) of private sector employees, equivalent to 18 million nationally, reported that they have gone to work unwell when they should have taken the day off. In contrast, less than a quarter (23%) said they have taken a sick day when they were not actually unwell.

Four in 10 (41%) private sector workers were concerned that their work would pile up if they take time off for sickness.

Doug Wright, medical director at Aviva UK Health, said organisations should ensure employees feel able to take sick days. “While every business wants the right level of resource in place, having employees who are unwell at work is a false economy,” he said.

“Businesses need to ensure they create a working culture whereby people do not feel pressurised into coming to work when they are unwell, safe in the knowledge their absence can be effectively managed.”

Wright warned that presenteeism negatively affects productivity. “Presenteeism, driven in part by an increased ‘always on’ culture, poses a threat to overall business performance through the adverse impact on productivity and morale in the workplace,” he said. “Businesses should ensure they take the lead on communicating to employees that it’s important to take a step back when unwell and it can be in everyone’s interest.”