UK Sickness Absence Figures Drop – But Is Presenteeism A Factor?

The sickness absence trajectory

It’s well known that in the UK the time that employees take off sick from work is getting less and less as time progresses. According to the office for National Statistics (ONS) there were 178 million days lost to sickness and injury in 1993, while in 2011 that number had dropped to 131 million.

Now, that is a pretty big drop for such a relatively short space of time – in fact it’s a reduction of over 26%. If you could travel back in time and go tell a 1993 personnel manager that sickness absence would be reduced this far, I’m sure she or he would be very impressed.


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Reasons for the lower absence figures

There is likely to be a combination of reasons why less time off work is taken due to sickness now as compared to 1993. Some of these could potentially include

  • Advances in medical science, with increasingly sophisticated surgery procedures and improved drug treatments mean that recovery times are faster
  • More and more workplaces are providing health cover for staff, and also Employee Assistance Programmes
  • The nature of many jobs has changed, along with developments in health and safety legislation.

However, this week it was reported that a recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has found that another reason for the drop could be presenteeism.

What is presenteeism?

In this context, presenteeism refers to people turning up for work when they are ill. It could be a heavy cold or the flu that the employee has, or some other ailment. In the case of things that can be spread such as a viral infection, it’s obviously possible that this poses a risk to colleagues. It also means that the staff member presenting for work when ill could also find that their productivity is lower than normal, as well as being at risk of making mistakes in their work due to being ill.

About one third of the respondents in the survey said that they’d noticed more people coming in to work sick. Reasons attributed to the rise centre around the fact that there are worries about redundancy and some employees feel that by minimising any leave they could be less likely to face any future redundancy.

The CIPD’s research adviser is quoted as saying that a proactive approach to wellbeing remains critical for success.

About the author: Jen Jones writes on workplace wellbeing and company medical insurance for a number of blogs and websites in the UK and elsewhere.

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