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Companies report rise in 'presenteeism' as ill staff keep working

PUBLISHED: 09:01 12 October 2015 | UPDATED: 09:01 12 October 2015

Picture: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire

Picture: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire

People are increasingly going to work when they are ill, especially in firms with a culture of long hours, new research has revealed.

A survey of 600 employers found that almost a third reported a rise in so-called “presenteeism”.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said companies where workers go to work ill were more likely be hit by stress-related absence among staff or mental health problems.

Its study found that workers were more likely to go to the office while sick if long working hours were seen as the norm, or where operational demands took precedence over employee wellbeing.

Almost three out of five organisations reporting an increase in presenteeism have not done anything to discourage it, said the report.

The problem was worse in the public sector amid pressure to deliver services in the face of austerity cuts, said the CIPD.

There has been little change in total levels of staff absence over the past year - up from 6.6 days a year to 6.9 days - but in the public sector the figure has increased from 7.9 to 8.7, according to the research.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said: “This is the fifth year in a row in which 30% or more of employers have reported an increase in employees coming in to work when they are ill.

“It’s a real concern that the problem of presenteeism is persisting, as we might have expected it to drop during the economic recovery as people tend to feel more secure in their jobs.

“The problem may well be a hangover from the recession but we need to address the issue of presenteeism head-on. The message to businesses is clear: if you want your workforce to work well, you have to take steps to keep them well and this means putting employee health above operational demands.”

Corinne Williams of healthcare firm Simplyhealth, which helped with the study, added: “Organisations should actively discourage presenteeism as part of a wider and carefully-considered wellbeing strategy, as well as exploring the root causes of this trend.”

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