UK employers are failing to reduce levels of presenteeism, as almost one quarter (23%) of UK workers – equating to around seven million people – would only take time off work if they were hospitalised.
The research from Canada Life Group Insurance found that UK employees are reluctant to take time off work despite being ill, with nine in ten (89%) saying they still go to work despite feeling sick this year – just one per cent less than the 90% recorded in 2016.
Worryingly 47% of respondents would come into work with a stomach bug and more than half (55%) would go into work if they had the flu. This has led to almost half (48%) of UK employees becoming ill due to an unwell colleague.
But, what exactly, is the root cause of this pressure to work through an illness? 69% say their illness wasn’t enough to warrant time off, a third (34%) cited high workloads, whilst 22% were motivated by financial concerns.
With just yesterday marking #WorldMentalHealthDay, where employers across the UK showed their support for breaking down the stigma around mental health, the survey indicates that this show of sympathy for illness is limited. 12% said their colleagues/senior members of staff make them feel guilty for taking time off whilst 11% thought the threat of redundancy would intensify, should they take time off to recuperate.
Paul Avis, Marketing Director at Canada Life Group Insurance, comments: “It is incredibly worrying it would take something as serious as being hospitalised to dissuade a quarter of British employees from going into work, showing that a ‘stiff upper lip’ culture of presenteeism still pervades the British workforce.”
Furthermore, almost a fifth (17%) of respondents said they worry about coming across as weak for taking time off with a short-term illness. An additional 14% say they worry about being viewed as lazy, and 13% worry about being seen as undedicated.
“People suffering from illnesses like flu and stomach bugs are unlikely to be productive and risk making their colleagues unwell as well by struggling into work,” continues Avis. “We need to be clearer with employees - they should only come in to work when fully fit and able to do so, be it physically or mentally.”