Can work make you sick?

2nd February 2017

Can Work Make Your Staff Sick? Ways to Tackle ‘Presenteeism’.

There is a lot of concern over absenteeism in the workplace and its costs in terms of productivity. But it is increasingly being recognised that ‘presenteeism’, where sick staff struggle into work, may be even more harmful. One survey by an insurance company suggested that the costs to business caused by people working while ill are three times higher than those caused by sickness absence. Another recent survey found that 87% of employees say their workplace is making them ill – often because they pick up germs from colleagues.

So what can companies do to prevent staff coming into work when they are genuinely ill? Here HR attendance software provider IRIS FMP HR & Payroll Software looks at ways of creating a wellness culture. As well as improving health, this will mean that staff feel they can stay away if they are too ill to do their jobs effectively.

Presenteeism versus Absenteeism

There is a high level of concern over absenteeism within the UK workplace, with sickness absence costing employers many billions of pounds. As well as genuine illness, many companies are worried about staff pulling “sickies”. One recent survey suggested that as many as 20% of employees take a “sickie” every year, either by exaggerating a minor illness or by pretending they are ill when they would actually be fit for work.
It is obviously important for companies to combat this trend and encourage staff not to stay away unnecessarily. But, equally, businesses need to strike the right balance and avoid creating a climate where those people who are genuinely ill feel frightened to be away from their desks for even a day or two.

A recent study suggested that nearly half of us, 46%, still come into work despite being unwell, while in the past other pieces of research have put this figure even higher at nearly 90%. What’s more, 87% of staff said in one survey that work actually made them ill.

One reason for presenteeism is fear over job security, for instance in companies where there are frequent redundancies and attendance is a factor which can be taken into account. Another concern is adding to a large workload, both for yourself and for others. In many sectors, staff are worried about leaving colleagues in the lurch and also fear they will have to catch up with a huge backlog if they miss a few days.

Dangers of Presenteeism

The types of illness which people work with are not just restricted to colds and headaches. Many people questioned in surveys have admitted to going into work even when they have stomach bugs, such as sickness and diarrhoea, which can be highly contagious. Numerous employees also continue turning up at the office with long-term health conditions, ranging from backache to mental health issues, even though these problems can often become much worse without the right treatment.

Hillary Clinton recently hit the headlines in the US presidential election when she collapsed after continuing to campaign while suffering from pneumonia. This incident only too clearly showed up the dangers of refusing to take time off long enough to recover properly from an illness. As well as the risk to their own health, in many cases staff members who soldier on could make others ill too. In Hilary’s case it raised doubts about her ability to do the job and she ultimately lost the election.

Another danger is that ill staff will not perform properly, and will make serious errors which could cost their employer money. If you are running a temperature and should really be at home in bed, it’s unlikely you will be able to give your full consideration to a complex issue, and there could be a danger you will make the wrong decision.

What Can HR Teams Do?

Ways of tackling “presenteeism” are closely related to efforts to combat sickness absence. To deal with both problems, many businesses are working to create a culture of wellbeing. This means that employees do not feel they need to put on a brave face and ignore illness, including those suffering from stress and related conditions.

To ensure that a wellness culture is a reality rather than a buzzword, managers and team leaders need to know how to watch out for signs of illness. HR staff can often advise on this and arrange for them to have the right training. There also needs to be openness so that staff know where to turn for advice and help over health problems.

As well as helping those who are ill, it is important for companies to positively promote better health. There are various ways of doing this, such as encouraging staff to take their breaks and annual leave, promoting healthier food and eating habits and subsidising gym memberships. Being open to flexible working arrangements can also help people to juggle different commitments and prevent stress.

Using HR Attendance Software, such as our integrated web-based solution Amity can help to flag up patterns of absence within an organisation. State-of-the-art cloud based HR and payroll solutions are also useful for creating flexible working schedules, for instance when a staff member is returning to work after an illness, and can help to keep in touch with staff who are off ill.

For more information on how to promote staff wellbeing, download our free eBook on Implementing Employee Wellbeing Policies