Going to work when sick is bad for your health -- and company profits

An article by the World Economic Forum notes that many organisations cite employee well-being as a top priority, but despite this, they quote research from the United Kingdom which shows that an increasing number of people are turning up at work when they are unwell.

This could be costing businesses. A 2012 study from the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) estimates that the lost productivity due to presenteeism in particular costs the United States economy $US227 billion per year.

Cases of “presenteeism” in the workplace have more than tripled since 2010, according to a a survey of more than 1,000 organisations in the UK by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and health insurer Simplyheath.

The survey found that a stunning 86% of respondents said they had noticed incidences of presenteeism in the past 12 months. This is in comparison to 72% when the survey was conducted in 2016 and just 26% in 2010.

Yet, according to those surveyed, only 25% of organisations are taking steps to discourage this trend, down from almost 48% in 2010.

The report also highlighted that the issue of what it calls “leave-ism” – when employees work during annual leave, flexitime or rest days – is on the rise. More than two-thirds of employers said leave-ism had occurred in their organisation during the past year.

Unhealthy working patterns can be associated with mental health conditions and stress-related absences, and the report refers to an increase in reporting of anxiety and depression compared to 2016.

Businesses and managers need to develop an understanding of underlying patterns of absence and attendance. While most businesses collect data on employee absences, the report notes that few use this information to design well-being strategies.

The report writers note that businesses have a responsibility to manage stress and mental health at work, making sure employees are aware of the services and support available to them and how to access them.

Beyond any “moral” responsibility to look after their employees, Cornell University economist Sean Nicholson notes that “the literature shows that employers can save an average of $US3 for every $US1 they invest in improving their workers’ health, so there are opportunities for companies to increase profits and wages while they improve worker health.”

Healthy employees are more likely to be productive, therefore helping to add to profitability.

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