A survey by employee benefits and insurance provider Personal Group, in collaboration with online doctor service videoDoc, recently found that the average employee worked for more than four days per year when they were genuinely ill. 52% delayed getting medical advice because they didn’t want to take time away from the office, and interestingly, women reported feeling a bigger pressure to turn up to work when in pain or suffering from an illness.
On the surface, statistics like these can seem to demonstrate that employees are loyal. They don’t want to let their colleagues down. They don’t want to make a fuss. They want to ensure that they get their work done and make their contribution to the bottom line.
It’s true that the root cause can be positive feelings, but in reality, it can be a serious problem. Their productivity is likely to suffer, their morale can go through the floor, and there’s quite often the risk of illnesses being passed to other workers, which amplifies the problem.
And of course, we need to remember that as an employer, you’ve got a duty of care. If you have a workplace culture that frowns upon taking time off – even when it’s for genuine reasons – then you’ve got a problem on your hands. Ultimately, it can lead to lower retention rates, higher costs, and a damaged employer brand.
So what can you do about it? Here are some areas that you might want to consider…
- Create a medical leave policy
Do your staff know what they should do if they need to attend a medical or dental appointment during working hours? Managing things on a case-by-case basis can cause problems, and it’s important that all members of staff know what the provisions are
- Ensure that you hold back-to-work meetings
Some members of staff may feel anxious or worried about the prospect of returning to work after a period of illness, even if it’s only a few days. Make sure that you’re carrying out back-to-work meetings so you can bring your employee up to speed, and they know that they’ll be supported
- Don’t neglect the problems that can’t be seen
If someone is suffering from the flu, that’s often pretty obvious. Many other issues though, such as stress and depression, can sometimes be hidden. Make sure that your agenda and policies are inclusive, and also tackle the areas which are less black and white
- Lead by example
Listen, we completely understand that you’re a busy leader with work to do. But if you’re seen showing up at the office when you’re quite clearly unwell, it’s sending the wrong message about what’s expected. Learn to recognise when taking a break is the best option
Battling presenteeism isn’t an overnight thing, and there are rarely quick fixes. It requires a shift in culture, and good practice being encouraged and supported over a longer period of time. Still though, it’s an important issue, and it deserves a place on your agenda.