Troubling trend amongst UK workers

Prevailing issue of presenteeism highlights a need for a transformation in workplace culture

In an era where the lines between work and personal life are increasingly blurred, a new study sheds light on a concerning trend among UK employees. Despite advancements in workplace policies and a growing emphasis on mental health and wellbeing, a significant number of workers are still pushing themselves to work even when they are not in full health.

The implications of this study are manifold, touching on aspects of corporate responsibility, employee welfare and broader societal norms regarding work ethic and productivity. The research conducted over the past two years has identified that a staggering 68%, equating to 21.7 million individuals within the UK workforce, have chosen to persevere through illness and continue working[1].

Various factors primarily influence this decision, with a significant 25% indicating that an overwhelming workload has deterred them from taking much-needed sick leave[2]. Furthermore, a close 23% express a sense of indispensability, feeling that the reliance placed upon them by others makes it challenging to step away from work responsibilities.

Burden of expectations and job security
An additional 22% of workers are hesitant to take time off, fearing the extra strain it may place on their colleagues. Meanwhile, the flexibility of remote work has led 17% to feel obligated to work through sickness from the comfort of their homes.

The workplace environment further complicates matters, with 13% feeling pressured by peers or superiors to avoid taking sick leave, and 9% are concerned about the stability of their employment if they were to take time off due to illness.

Financial worries and the stigma of sick leave
The financial implications of taking sick leave have also emerged as a significant deterrent, with 18% of workers admitting to working while unwell due to financial concerns within the last two years.

Additionally, 10% abstain from taking sick leave, driven by fears of unpaid leave. This culture of presenteeism is exacerbated by nearly one in ten workers who, upon calling in sick, face scrutiny or disbelief from their managers regarding the legitimacy of their illness.

Essential role of employers in promoting wellbeing
This prevailing issue of presenteeism highlights a critical need for a transformation in workplace culture that prioritises employees’ health and wellbeing and encourages them to take necessary time off without fear of repercussion or judgment.

Employers must recognise the impact of an uncertain economic climate on their employees’ mental health and job security fears. Creating an environment where employees feel supported in prioritising their health is crucial, as is educating both employees and employers on the importance of sick leave for overall productivity and wellbeing.

Source data:
[1] Survey conducted by Opinium for Canada Life among a national representation sample of 2000 UK adults between 10 – 14 November 2023
[2] Respondents were able to select more than one option.


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