Presenteeism on the Rise as Three-Quarter Employees Still Working While Sick: Does This Impact Employees Working From Home?

Presenteeism on the Rise as Three-Quarter Employees Still Working While Sick: Does This Impact Employees Working From Home?
Photo Credits - Adrian Swancar via Unsplash

According to a new study, over three-quarters of employees have admitted to working while sick in the past year. This demonstrates the continuing prevalence of presenteeism in the UK. Read on to learn more about the research findings, the concept of e-presenteeism, and its negative impact on physical and mental health.

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Statistics Show UK Employees Hesitate to Take a Sick Day 

Research conducted by health screening firm Bluecrest Wellness, which involved 1,400 UK workers, revealed that in the past 12 months, 77% worked while sick. 20% of those surveyed stated they felt pressure from their employer to do so. Seemingly, women are more likely to keep working while sick than men, and younger employees are also increasingly prone to this. 

When it came to the reasons for employees working while sick, 48% confessed they were concerned about letting their team down, while 38% felt they couldn’t afford to take time off, thus indicating that they would receive no sick pay were they to do so.  

Read: HR Grapevine ERBW 2023: Measuring and Promoting Your Mental Health Strategy  

Moreover, 52% of respondents hesitated to book a GP appointment. Of these, 42% stated it was too difficult to get an appointment, and 18% did not feel sufficiently ill to justify one. Further figures have demonstrated the negative impact which working while sick can have. 

Bluecrest Wellness’ chief medical officer, Dr Martin Thornton, has expressed concern regarding the firm’s research results. He has highlighted the increased risk of failing to seek medical attention, including with respect to detecting and preventing chronic illnesses. 

“We know that many of these can start with very vague symptoms,” he explained, continuing: “Your first sign of heart problems could be just shortness of breath. Your first sign of cancer could be just losing weight. And your first sign of diabetes could just be fatigue”. 

E-Presenteeism: Same Attitude, Different Setting 

Over recent years, presenteeism has become increasingly common across the UK. Simply put, this means working while sick, whether this comprises physical or mental health issues.  

Previously, presenteeism was relatively easy to identify, as it constituted employees attending the workplace while unwell. However, the increasing prevalence of remote working has created a new phenomenon: “e-presenteeism”. 

E-presenteeism is like presenteeism, which still means working while sick but at home rather than in the workplace.
Photo Credits – Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

E-presenteeism is similar, meaning individuals work while sick but at home rather than in the workplace. Given the difficulty some employees experience separating home life from work life when working remotely, this generates a new range of problems when identifying and discouraging e-presenteeism. 

The Rise of E-Presenteeism 

A study conducted by the Mental Health Foundation showed that managers felt remote working was encouraging e-presenteeism. Some even expressed the view that e-presenteeism could negatively affect the mental health of employees due to its exacerbation of anxiety, stress, and burnout. In fact, 54% felt that remote working had caused an escalation in anxiety and burnout among employees, as well as increased loneliness and isolation. 

Of course, the main demonstration of e-presenteeism is working while sick, even though this is done from home. Further signs of e-presenteeism include working excessive hours, responding to work communications after work hours, and making more frequent mistakes. Feelings of demotivation, disengagement, and exhaustion can all indicate e-presenteeism, as can poor time-keeping and decreased productivity. 

Negative Impacts of Presenteeism and E-Presenteeism 

E-presenteeism can have clear and significant effects on employees’ mental health. Feeling obliged to “stay connected” and not “turn off” from work results in an increased risk of heightened stress and anxiety levels. This can, in turn, lead to deterioration in mental well-being. It also massively impacts employees’ work-life balance, causing them to struggle to disconnect from their professional duties. 

Businesses Need to Encourage ‘Living Well’ and ‘Staying Well’ 

From a business perspective, e-presenteeism can be of equal concern, demonstrating some undesirable consequences. Whilst e-presenteeism is often caused by pressure (whether real or misconceived), it is likely to harm employers as well as employees.  

Read: Boosting Employee Well-Being with Assistance Programs  

E-presenteeism can result in decreased productivity. Moreover, constant work without breaks is likely to reduce cognitive abilities, problem-solving, and creativity. These consequences are likely to result in poorer work quality.  

Dominique Kent, CEO at Bluecrest Wellness, has urgently encouraged employers to tackle presenteeism. Highlighting the issues that can result from employees working while sick, she stated: “If organisations really want to improve things like sickness absence rates and productivity, the answer is not to expect or encourage people to work when they’re unwell, but to help them to live well—and to stay well for the long term”.

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