Two in five employers not addressing presenteeism

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Nearly four in five employers report that staff have been working at home while unwell over the past year, but two in five aren’t taking any steps to address the issue.

According the annual CIPD and Simplyhealth Health and wellbeing at work report, 84% of employers have observed “presenteesim” during the pandemic: 75% saw this in the workplace and 77% at home.

Seven in 10 observed some form of “leaveism”, such as working outside contracted hours or using holiday entitlement to work.

Although a higher proportion of HR professionals than last year are taking steps to tackle these unhealthy working practices, 43% experiencing presenteeism and 47% experiencing leaveism aren’t taking any steps to address them.

Line managers are key to tackling health and wellbeing concerns, the report says, but there are still too few organisations equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to do this.

Just under two-fifths are providing more line management training in supporting employee wellbeing.

“Managing people, and their health and wellbeing, is a big job – and an important one. Line managers are under considerable pressure in the current climate, and they’ll also be experiencing many of the same concerns as those they manage,” Rachel Suff, CIPD senior policy adviser for employment relations, and CIPD president Professor Sir Cary Cooper say in their foreword to the report.

“The continuing impact of Covid-19 means they’ll be managing a potentially complex mix of personal situations in their teams. To perform their role effectively, managers need the behaviours, education and capability they will only gain from receiving the right training, support and expert guidance.”

Other findings include:

  • Organisations are becoming more proactive at tackling health and wellbeing concerns. Only 27% say their organisation is more reactive than proactive, down from 41% last year.
  • Over half have increased employee wellbeing support or benefits in response to the pandemic, while just over a third are focusing more on providing virtual health services.
  • Fifty-seven per cent say mental health is the most common focus of their wellbeing activity, up from 41% in 2020.
  • Only 11% have been focusing on financial wellbeing to a large extent.
  • Seventy-seven per cent believe their organisation actively promotes good mental wellbeing, up from 58% last year, but only half think it is effective in tackling stress or in identifying or managing mental health risks arising from Covid-19.
  • Seventy-nine per cent report some stress-related absence over the past year, rising to 91% among organisations with 250 or more employees.

“It shouldn’t have taken a global pandemic to push people’s health and wellbeing to the top of the corporate agenda as a critical business continuity issue. The challenge, now, is to ensure employers view employee health and wellbeing as a strategic imperative beyond Covid-19,” the report says.

Olivia Fahy, head of culture at management consultancy TCC, said that reports of an “always on” culture at work “fly in the face of workplace flexibility” claims.

She said: “While more and more organisations are committing to flexible working policies, there’s a risk that this is only cosmetic with healthy working practices not properly embedded into workplace cultures – often causing presenteeism and leaveism. What’s more, the physical distance between employees and their employer has, in many cases, made it more of a challenge to monitor health and wellbeing.

“If employees are stretching themselves in the face of work-related stress, then fatigue, deterioration of mental and physical health, and unproductivity are all very real risks for employers. It’s therefore absolutely essentially that organisations invest in wellbeing strategies and actively build healthy working cultures, for happier, healthier, and a more engaged workforce.”

The survey of 688 HR and L&D professionals, representing 2.7 million employees, was conducted in November-December 2020.

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