Falling absence levels may point to a rise in presenteeism rather than successful absence management strategies, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
Research by the CIPD and private health insurer SimplyHealth found that the average level of absence during the past year fell from 7.7 to 6.8 days per employee.
However, almost one-third (30%) of employers surveyed reported an increase in the number of people attending work when they were unwell.
The research identified job security as a major factor in presenteeism. One-third (35%) of organisations expecting to make redundancies in the next six months saw a rise in sick employees turning up to work compared with 26% of those not making job cuts.
In addition, it found that stress-related absence and mental ill health were on the rise. Exactly two-fifths of employers reported an increase in the number of workers taking time off due to stress, while 44% said that they had seen an increase in mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Dr Jill Miller, research adviser at the CIPD, warned that while the fall in absence levels may seem to be positive, the corresponding increase in presenteeism could be bad news for employers.
She said: "Not only can illness be passed on to other colleagues, but ill employees are likely to work less effectively than usual, may be more prone to making costly mistakes and take longer to recover from their illnesses."
Miller urged employers to examine whether lower absence levels within their own organisation were as a result of more effective absence management or if they reflected the "negative impact of presenteeism".
"Overall, a proactive approach to supporting employee wellbeing and managing absence, which includes training managers in how to manage people effectively and early access to occupational health services, remains critical for success," she added.
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