Is “Presenteeism” the reason that sickness absence levels dropped to a new record low?

Recent research suggests that sickness absence levels in the UK are at an all-time low.

Is this, as suggested, due to “unhealthy” working practices, such as presenteeism?

The Office of National Statistics reported that employees took an average of 4.1 days off sick in 2017, compared to 7.2 days taken in 1993, when these records began.

The proportion of working hours lost to sickness absence also dropped to 1.9% in 2017, compared to 2% in 2016.

Evidence suggests that employees feel under even more pressure to be at work, regardless of whether they are ill, this could be the reason why mental health conditions, such as stress-related illness are also on an increase.

A recent publication of Personnel Today said that; employee wellbeing appeared to be low priority for many organisations.

The research, from the CIPD, also said that 22% of employers reported that mental illness was the primary cause for long term absence last year, compared to 13% in 2016.  The ONS also confirmed that absence due to mental health conditions has increased from 7.2% in 2009 to 9.6% in 2017.

Could another factor be the introduction of flexible working practices?  The development of modern technology now makes it possible for people to work from home.  Employees who have the ability to do their job from home, are probably more likely to do this than take a sick day.

Rachel Suff, Senior Employment Relations Advisor at the CIPD, said “When people are genuinely unwell, they will not be productive at work and organisations need to have an attendance management culture that supports people when they are ill and discourages unhealthy behaviour like presenteeism”.

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