Research reveals ‘presenteeism culture’ is making offices more sick & increasing the UK productivity gap

To coincide with World Day for Safety and Health at Work, global office solutions brand, Fellowes, has today launched new research urging business leaders to tackle the growing problem of ‘presenteeism’ across Britain.

More than half (52%) of UK workers are currently going to work when their performance is negatively affected by work-related health issues – and a third (34%) of workers have admitted they have even considered moving jobs due to the negative impact of their work environment on their health – the highest percentage across Europe.


Presenteeism is the new absenteeism

Despite their best intentions, employees coming into work when sick are contributing to a rising trend of ‘presenteeism’ across the UK. When a worker is present but not able to perform their function properly, it compromises their productivity. With most employees continuing to work at sub-par levels rather than taking days off to recover, this also prolongs the effect of illness. Subsequently, businesses are experiencing a detrimental knock-on impact on the quality and volume of work produced, with a further impact on overall business performance.  Those who come in with infectious illnesses also spread bugs and viruses to their colleagues, creating a chain reaction.

The Fellowes research shows that Brits are amongst the worst affected in Europe, and ‘sick offices’ don’t help, with UK employees suffering regularly from backache (34%), neck ache (25%) and headaches (23%) as a direct result of how they are working. In addition, as many as 1 in 5 (19%) UK workers highlighted weight problems, and 1 in 10 (8%) cited an increase in blood pressure as a result of poor wellbeing at work.


Businesses think scaring sick people back to work is the answer – it isn’t.

Absence Management Expert Adrian Lewis of Activ Absence explains:

“Recent years have seen an explosion in initiatives to cut the cost of absence.  Unfortunately, few employers have invested in the absence management tools that enable them to uncover the cause of absence in their organisations – so the initiatives are not based on data, and there is virtually no targeted approach to wellbeing.  Instead, the approach to driving down sickness has been mainly disciplinary, assuming everyone off sick is an absentee or a malingerer.  This is plainly not an effective approach, and is short-sighted. We shouldn’t be scaring genuinely sick people back into work – I’ve even heard of someone with pneumonia too scared to take time off!  


“Absence management starts by getting data and taking targeted action – it amazes me when employers offer a yoga class and assume they have wellbeing covered!  There aren’t short cuts, return to work interviews should be exploratory, not disciplinary, and identifying patterns and trends in your team will tell you what to do next.  Once businesses uncover WHY people are off sick, they have the data to take preventative action with wellbeing initiatives, and can target the solution to the problem. 


“Musculoskeletal problems?  Invest in ergonomic equipment – and check that your health and safety processes are working.  Mental health issues?  Speak to occupational health and train your line managers.  Call in experts if you need to.  The systems that identify patterns and trends will tackle absenteeism anyway, and usually improve engagement, too.  


“Targeted preventative solutions will also improve productivity – presenteeism on the other hand just costs employers more in the long run.”


A preventative, rather than curative approach is needed by leadership

Adrian is not the only one with concerns about the ‘cures’ for absenteeism’ that businesses are currently using.  Presenteeism is an issue of growing concern for business leaders.

The Fellowes research found that senior managers in the UK identified improving morale (51%), productivity (50%) and creating a healthier workplace (39%) as their top priorities, yet, only 39% of employees are aware that their employers currently offer health and wellbeing initiatives to address these areas. What’s more, almost half (44%) of the UK workforce don’t think their employers are doing enough to look after their general wellbeing.

When analysing the causes of absence, the lack of awareness about good working practices in businesses becomes clear. The main bad habits UK employees admit to in the workplace include; poor posture when sitting at desks (55%), not drinking enough water during the day (42%), and sitting for too long without taking a break (42%). Worryingly, such health issues are reducing the daily volume of work employees are able to produce, leading to nearly a quarter (24%) of employees working extra hours or at the weekend on a regular basis to compensate – risking a reduction in employee engagement levels and further loss of focus in their work.

With 57% of employees saying that they would stay in their jobs longer if more was done to look after their wellbeing, and 58% saying that their work would be of a better quality, the solution to the productivity puzzle is clear. We can see there is a huge incentive for employers to address the causes of current work-related health issues to pave the way for a much happier, more engaged and ultimately more productive workforce.


Louise Shipley, European Business Team Manager – Workspace Management at Fellowes, said:

“Our findings signal serious problems with how organisations are approaching wellbeing and productivity in the workplace. They show a clear lack of awareness around the causes and effects of a presenteeism culture in the office.


With European businesses already losing a staggering €73 billion annually due to absenteeism, employers simply can’t disregard the worsening problem of presenteeism taking effect. Happy and healthy employees do better work, and more of it, making the bottom-line impact simply too significant to ignore.”

Across Europe, 74% of senior managers believe that offering health and wellbeing initiatives would enable them to attract better staff. For example, by introducing ergonomic products to support employees’ posture whilst they work, such as foot-rests, back supports, wrist-rests and screen risers. Almost two thirds (65%) of managers also believe that their teams would feel more motivated and engaged if their immediate work environment was improved by having Sit-Stand workstations. Moreover, they identified that these would reduce occurrences of absenteeism (58%), by allowing employees to add more movement to their working day and better their health.

“The tools are there for business leaders to tackle presenteeism and help to prevent the widespread workplace health issues that are dragging down productivity and work quality. It’s time for leaders to take the reins and drive a potentially huge impact on their organisations,” concludes Shipley.  



Author: Editorial Team

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