UK workers took the seventh lowest number of sick days in Europe last year, according to new research that casts fresh light on the pressure people working at home feel to carry on working when ill.
One business culture consultant said the study, which found that workers in the UK only took an average of 5.8 days sick leave last year, showed that the country was still in thrall to “outdated legacy” attitudes in the workplace and reflected how “fear and control” still held sway at many organisations.
The research, from workforce management solutions provider Mitrefinch, was gleaned from ONS and World Health Organization figures, with input from CIPD-equivalent bodies across Europe.
Surprisingly, it found that in Germany employees took an average 18 days off sick while in France, eight days was the ballpark figure.
In Switzerland and Sweden workers only took 2.4 days sick leave on average over the course of a calendar year. Ukraine (3.7 days) and Malta (4.2 days) made up the rest of the top three.
Widespread remote working has limited the spread of infectious conditions but the figures, according to the study’s authors, show that in the UK employees feel a high degree of guilt about taking days off sick if they’re already working from home and are more likely to log on despite being unwell.
Wellbeing and presenteeism
For Lizzie Benton, company culture expert at Liberty Mind, the results showed that the UK still lived by “outdated legacy attitudes in the workplace.
“Fear and control is what many organisations are run by, and for employees, asking for a day off sick is like showing weakness, or admitting a failure.
“It’s not just the act of taking a day off, but the repercussions this may have when an employee returns to work. Managers treating them coldly, or over-questioning about a day off to imply they were faking it in some way.”
“I think managers often behave this way because it is bred in the company culture. Attitudes and behaviours start at the top, and if you have a boss who comes in no matter how they’re feeling, it creates a culture where people feel they can’t take a sick day.”
Mark Dewell, managing director at Mitrefinch, said: “Taking time out of work mode to recover from illnesses – be that mental or physical – is integral to the productivity and growth of any successful business, and the fact that over a third of UK workers admit to working despite being unwell is a serious cause for concern.”