On a day traditionally marked by an increase in sick leave, new research from HR, payroll, and finance expert MHR suggests that presenteeism, the act of working while unwell, is a more pressing concern for UK organisations.
A survey conducted by MHR on ‘National Sickie Day’ reveals that a staggering 71 percent of employees have chosen to work despite being unwell due to the negative connotations associated with taking sick leave.
The primary fear, reported by 74 percent of respondents, is that doing so would hinder their career progression.
These findings shed light on a pervasive culture of presenteeism within UK organisations, prompting a call for senior leaders to address the issue not only for the sake of employee wellbeing but also for the overall health of the business.
Employees working through illness are shown to be less productive and more susceptible to making costly mistakes, adversely affecting the company’s bottom line.
What are the reasons behind this?
While only 20 percent of respondents admitted to having “pulled a sickie” in the past year, the reasons behind this behaviour are concerning. A significant 22 percent cited a demotivating company culture, while a striking 46 percent attributed it to overwhelming workloads.
In addressing these challenges, technology emerges as a crucial ally. MHR suggests that digital tools, particularly in the realm of HR, can be instrumental in automating routine tasks. This, in turn, allows employees to devote more time to complex, people-oriented issues such as conflict resolution, engagement, and talent development. Such initiatives can contribute significantly to improving employee wellbeing and fostering a healthier organisational culture.
Jeanette Wheeler, Chief HR Officer at MHR, expressed alarm at the research findings, pointing to a worrisome trend of presenteeism in the workplace. Wheeler emphasised the need for HR teams to actively promote a healthy work-life balance and cultivate a positive work culture where employees feel valued and empowered to prioritise their own wellbeing.
Whether through more effective communication or a shift in organisational mindset, addressing presenteeism is seen as a critical step towards building a more sustainable and supportive work environment.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.