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Are employers concerned about sickness presence?

Authors: The Work Foundation Katherine Ashby

21 May 2010

Is it a problem for organisations if an employee goes to work when they are sure they should be on sick leave? Are employers concerned about employees going to work unwell?

These were some of the questions we asked our partner organisations last week at a workshop to explore the issue of sickness presence (also termed presenteeism). The workshop provided a great opportunity to hear insights on the subject from our partner organisations, as well as to share the findings of our new research report, sponsored by AXA-PPP. Ian Clabby from AXA PPP also shared how they approach sickness presence within their own organisation.

The initial group discussions illuminated that sickness presence, employees attending work unwell, was not something many of the organisations (both public and private sector) had considered – there was also some debate over the implications of sickness presence and if it was a good or bad thing for organisations. Is it better for employees to be at work when they feel their health is such that they could have taken sick leave, than not at work at all?

We replied that in some cases it can be worse for employees to attend work unwell. The findings of our recent research with AXA PPP (involving a survey with 510 employees) showed that attending work when self perception of health justifies time off was associated with reduced psychological wellbeing, higher levels of sickness absence and lower levels of manager-assessed performance.

We believe employers need to pay more attention to employees attending work when their self perception of health justifies taking time off. As with sickness absence, the underlying causes of sickness presence need to be explored before anything can change.

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