In the last year there has been a major reduction in the number of staff taking sick leave, according to the latest Absence Management survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), in partnership with Simplyhealth.
However, there’s concern that the reduction in the average days off sick, from 7.7 days per employee per year to 6.8 days, is not a reflection of better health. Coming at a time of economic recession, when budgets are being cut and fear of redundancy is high, the fall seems to reflect a greater willingness of staff to get to work, even when they’re not feeling so good.
The result is what’s called ‘presenteeism’, where sick employees attend their workplace because they believe it’s important to be seen.
The cost of sickness and presenteeism
While many smaller businesses do not actively monitor the cost of staff absence, figures are available for larger firms. It’s estimated to be around £600 per day.
The true costs, however, could be much higher, particularly for smaller firms. In the typical small business, with perhaps a dozen staff, a single employee may be responsible for an entire commercial activity, such as marketing or finance. There is very little scope to provide short-term cover for their position, having no colleagues in similar roles to cover the gap.
The costs for presenteeism could be almost as high. Just because someone’s at their desk doesn’t mean they are getting much work done. Worse, their condition could result in poor judgement, resulting in extra costs, through work that needs to be redone, or business opportunities lost.
Stress is becoming an increasing problem
In addition to highlighting the rise in presenteeism, the CIPD survey finds that absences due to work-related stress are going up. The most common cause is workload, which is no surprise as firms struggle to do more with less people.
Unfortunately, many of the underlying reasons for stress look to be around for a while yet. A fifth of the firms surveyed by the CIPD say they will be making redundancies in the coming six months.
Perhaps more worryingly, only a third of all those surveyed say that they won’t be cutting jobs. That leaves a large proportion of employers who could be considering reducing their workforce.
The overall message to employers from the survey is that employees are worried about job security and incomes, which translates into those who are sick still coming into work. This is a challenge for firms of all sizes to manage if they want to maximise productivity during tough times.