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Sickness presence may cost firms more than absenteeism

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Businesses could be hit harder by employees coming to work when they are ill than by sickness absence, a new report has claimed.

A study carried out by the Work Foundation think tank suggested that the cost of sickness presence, as it is termed, could account for 1.5 times more lost working hours than sick leave.

Sickness absence is widely measured and monitored, but, the report said, little attention has so far been paid to the effects of employees who work when they are ill.

The research is one of the first major investigations into the subject and looked at the links between the performances of individual employees and sickness presence.

According to the survey, 45 per cent of employees reported going to work when they were unwell compared with 18 per cent who called in sick for one or more days over the same four-week period.

The study also found that those who had already taken time off sick were more likely to work when ill.

Coming into work sick could have a negative impact on the performance of employees and on the productivity of the firm that employs them.

Katherine Ashby, who led the research, said: “In the current economic climate, with high job insecurity making employees more wary of taking time off, understanding the causes and effects of sickness presence is crucial.

“In addition to sickness absence, measuring sickness presence may provide a more reliable picture of an organisation’s health-related productivity losses.”

Ms Ashby added: “It is vital to explore the reasons behind sickness presence, especially any work-related triggers that are adversely affecting the wellbeing of employees which could be addressed in the workplace. Evidence shows that ‘good work’ – or well designed jobs – helps to improve motivation, job satisfaction and productivity.

“We also know that the opposite can lead to reduced psychological wellbeing and ill health. In the same way that sickness absence can be a symptom of underlying issues, levels of sickness presence can also be an important indicator of employee health and wellbeing. Organisations need to be aware that low levels of sickness absence may not tell the whole story. Successfully tackling the underlying causes of sickness presenteeism could improve employee wellbeing and so reduce both sickness presence and sickness absence.”