Quarter of UK workers say they would have to be hospitalised before they took a sick day

ill staff

Almost a quarter of UK workers – around seven million people – say they would only take time off work if they were hospitalised and had no other choice.

New research reveals a worrying attitude towards taking time off for sickness among the UK workforce. Nine in ten UK workers say they’ve gone into work when feeling ill, a proportion which is virtually unchanged compared to 2016, suggesting employers’ efforts to improve wellbeing are failing to reduce Presenteeism among employees.

The issue is pronounced, with the survey indicating that 47 per cent of respondents would come into work with a stomach bug and more than half would go into work if they had the flu – despite the high chance of this illness spreading to their co-workers. Half of workers say they have become unwell due to a colleague’s illness on more than one occasion.

The main reason employees cite for going into work when unwell is feeling their illness doesn’t warrant a day off, identified by 69 per cent of respondents. A third say high workloads have forced them to go into work when unwell, and 22 per cent say they were motivated by financial concerns.

Improving perceptions of illness in the workplace

The research also highlights that some employees are worried about how they would be perceived for taking time off due to illness, with this fear also contributing to Presenteeism. Almost a fifth of respondents say they worry about coming across as weak for taking time off with a short-term illness. An additional 14 per cent say they worry about being viewed as lazy, and 13 per cent worry about being seen as undedicated.

There is a lack of awareness among employees about workplace support for sickness absence. More than two in five respondents say they are not aware of any form of sickness absence support in their organisation, while 14 per cent say their employer definitely doesn’t offer anything. Just 10% say their employer has an Employer Assistance Programme in place, which is a crucial tool for providing preventative and practical health support in the workplace. Having services in place and communicating this regularly to staff is vital for improving workplace health and wellbeing.

Paul Avis, Marketing Director at Canada Life Group Insurance, who commissioned the research said: “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. 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. 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.

“One of the key problems appears to be that many employees don’t think their illnesses are serious enough to warrant taking time off. Employers must do more to show they are serious about supporting employee health. This includes tapping into the quality support available from insurers. Early Intervention Services are available alongside group income protection products and include proactive absence management interventions to facilitate a return to work; but only when employees are fit and able to do so. Employee Assistance Programmes are also provided at no extra cost and provide daily practical support as well as communicating an employer’s commitment to their staff’s health and wellbeing.”