Employers are spending too much time focusing on sickness absence and attendance and failing to recognise the potentially even greater cost to their organisations of “sickness presence”, or people who struggle on working when ill, research has suggested.
A report by the think-tank The Work Foundation says the cost to the economy of people working when ill could be up to one-and-a-half times more than the estimated £13bn cost of sickness absence.
But because workers are physically present, it is often a hidden drain on businesses and one that neither managers nor healthcare professionals tend properly to recognise or understand.
The Why do employees come to work when ill? research, commissioned by healthcare provider AXA-PPP and carried out by the foundation, found sickness presence was much more prevalent than sickness absence.
Nearly half of those polled reported one or more days working when unwell, while fewer than a fifth had taken one or more days’ absence over the same four-week period.
The study also found that those who had time off sick were more likely to work when ill.
Especially in the wake of the introduction of the Fit Note, occupational health professionals could take a more proactive role in recommending other types of work an employee could carry out when they are unwell but still willing and able to work, it argued.
Work Foundation lead author Katherine Ashby said: “In the current economic climate, with high job insecurity making employees more wary of taking time off, understanding the causes and effects of sickness presence is crucial.
“In addition to sickness absence, measuring sickness presence may provide a more reliable picture of an organisation’s health-related productivity losses,” she added.