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Worries about pay fuel presenteeism

The majority of people will still go to work when they are unwell out of fear of not being paid, according to research

Of the 2,320 UK adults surveyed by Holloway, 92% said they had gone into work when sick. More than half (51%) said that they had done so because they were worried they would not be paid.

Other concerns included getting into trouble (22%), not wanting to fall behind (11%), employees thinking they could ‘power through’ illness (9%), and feeling they had called in sick too many times (6%).

The study also found that four-fifths (82%) of those who go into work ill admit to being unproductive when they do. A quarter (26%) had been sent home from work.

Of those who said they had gone into work while sick, three-quarters (76%) admitted to researchers that colleagues had been ill soon after.

Most employees were unaware of their organisation’s sickness policy. Just 22% said that they were familiar with it, while the remaining 78% stated they weren’t.

Louise Baker, head of HR at Holloway, said that it's important for employees to understand policies around sick pay.

"It’s worrying to hear just how many Brits are forcing themselves into work when they are not well enough to be there. It’s important that more people fully understand their company’s sick policy, and if they do feel like they aren’t guaranteed pay when ill income protection is definitely something worth looking into,” she said.

“Besides the fact that going into work when sick could make you feel worse and prolong your absence from work, you also risk making your co-workers unwell; something that does happen according to our findings.”

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at the University of Manchester’s Business School, said job insecurity is driving presenteeism and is related to low-pay fears.

“Most people are aware that they are legally entitled to pay when they are off sick and exactly how much, but this could change depending on your industry," he said. "One of the fundamental reasons people show up to work while sick is because of insecurity about their jobs, which relates to pay. They could be worried about their company downsizing, and thinking if that happens could their job be the first to go if they take time off sick.”

Cooper added that presenteeism can be hugely damaging for organisations.

“We know that presenteeism costs the economy twice as much as absenteeism. HR must be clear about absence pay, and make sure that employees understand that whether the illness is physical or psychological they can’t bring any value to work by showing up unwell.”