NEWS: Presenteeism hits record high as stress at work rises

‘Presenteeism’, or people coming into work when they are ill, has more than tripled in eight years since 2010, according to a survey.

Eighty-six per cent of the 1,021 respondents to CIPD/Simplyhealth’s annual health and wellbeing at work survey said they had observed presenteeism in their organisation over the last 12 months, compared with 72% in 2016 and just 26% in 2010.

Despite the figures, just a quarter of respondents that have experienced presenteeism say their organisation has taken steps to discourage it.

Professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business school, Cary Cooper, commented: “This is really very worrying, but not surprising. People are feeling insecure about the future. They’re worried whether they’ll have a job, if Brexit will lead to job loss, so [they think] ‘I better turn up, so my HR record shows I’m there; I’m present whether I’m delivering or not, I’m there’”.

‘Presenteeism’, or people coming into work when they are ill, has more than tripled in eight years. Photograph: iStock / Fatcamera

He said ‘leavism’ – the practice identified in the report of working when off sick or using holiday time to work, reported by over two thirds of respondents – was also troubling. “It’s not good for the health and wellbeing of individuals and, incidentally, for the productivity of the company itself.”

The survey also revealed how presenteeism can be coupled with stress-related absence elsewhere. Around half (55%) of those who have seen an increase in ‘presenteeism’ also reported a rise in stress-related absence. Nearly two-fifths (37%) of respondents said that stress-related absence in their organisation had increased over the past year.

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations advisor at the CIPD, said: “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.

“Increasingly the threats to wellbeing in the modern workplace are psychological rather than physical, and yet too few organisations are discouraging unhealthy workplace practices and tackling stress, which is strongly linked to health conditions such as anxiety and depression.”

The survey taken in 2017 and published on 2 May 2018, found that nearly two-fifths (37%) of respondents said stress-related absence in their organisation has increased, while only 8% said it had decreased, with others reporting no progress on stress.

Positively, the report shows a higher proportion of employers raising awareness of mental health issues across the workforce (51%, up from 31% in 2016 and 2015).

More organisations are also providing training aimed at building personal resilience (such as coping techniques, mindfulness) compared with previous years (2018: 44%; 2016: 26%; 2015: 24%).

Pam Whelan, director of corporate at Simplyhealth, commented: “An organisation’s greatest asset is its people and so it’s vital employers recognise the need to support their employees’ biggest assets – their physical and mental health and well-being.”

CIPD wellbeing at work survey here