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Nine in 10 employees have gone to work when ill

Research shows no improvement in presenteeism trends over five years

Nine in ten (89%) employees have gone into work when they were unwell, according to research from Canada Life Group Insurance. 

The insurer, which has been tracking presenteeism for five years, said there has been no improvement in the proportion of employees working when ill, with the figure standing at 90% back in 2014. 

Two in five (42%) employees took no time off whatsoever for sickness in 2018, according to the poll of 1,000 people.

Three in five (58%) employees admitted they went into work when they were unwell because they did not believe they were ill enough to warrant a day off. Meanwhile, a quarter (27%) said their workload was too large to take a sick day, while 23% worried about the financial implications of taking a day off. 

One in five (18%) said their colleagues made them feel guilty for taking time off, even when they were ill.

Canada Life warned that presenteeism is spreading beyond the walls of the office. The rise of technology in the workplace and the increased use of laptops and other mobile devices for work is inspiring what it described as “casual presenteeism” outside of usual office hours. 

One in five (22%) monitor work emails in their spare time, rising to 26% for workers under 40. A further 21% check work emails first thing in the morning and 17% admit to checking and responding to emails when they’re unwell.

The insurer said employers need to communicate the support they can offer employees who experience health issues.

At the moment, nearly half (47%) of employees are either unaware or unable to access sickness absence support in the workplace. However, three in 10 (29%) can speak to a designated member of staff, while one in five (21%) have access to a helpline or external organisation and 17% have access to an employee assistance programme (EAP). 

Meanwhile, a quarter (24%) of employees would feel more comfortable taking time off for illness if there was less pressure from their boss to be “always on” and working. 

Paul Avis, marketing director for Canada Life Group Insurance, warned that presenteeism is counterproductive because it signifies employees do not believe illness is taken seriously in their organisation, which has a negative impact in terms of staff retention and productivity.

“Employers must communicate the support they can offer employees to ensure they take time off when they need it,” he said.