Are workers too afraid to be ill?

The Office for National Statistics has recently reported that the number of sick days taken by British workers fell to 4.1 days in 2017, in contrast to the 7.2 days which was the first recorded entry in 1993. Whilst this appears to suggest that sickness amongst employees is declining, according to Sir Gary Cooper of Manchester Business School the reality of the matter is that employees are frightened to call in sick due to fear of losing their job.

It is interesting to see that the sickness absence rate in the private sector is at 1.7% whereas in the public sector the rate is slightly higher at 2.6%. This may be due to multiple factors; however one of the main factors may be that public sector companies tend to have fewer employees therefore affecting the average. Another key, and perhaps more topical, reason for this may be because many private sector companies are less generous with company sick pay entitlement than public sector companies. As a result employees of private sector companies are choosing to attend work for financial reasons with the weekly statutory sick pay (SSP) entitlement being so low.

The consequence of this is that employees are coming in to work even when they are unwell to show ‘face time’; an increase in presenteeism. Again, although on the face of it this appears to be a positive for employers since they are maintaining the levels of their workforce, naturally when an employee is unwell the quality of their work slips thus potentially creating reputational issues for the company.

Employees are appearing to feel vulnerable if they have high levels of absence on their HR record. This feeling is more prevalent now due to the looming prospects of Brexit and the reduction of employment protection to follow with this, as well as the aftermath of the recession and the financial consequence a sick day may have on the employee’s salary and household income.

Overall, the quality of output from a happy and healthy employee supersedes the output from a frightened, unwell employee. As a result, companies should be wary of putting increased pressure on employees to attend work when they are not fit to do so. Having an unfit employee in the workplace also runs the risk of spreading illnesses and virus’ amongst the rest of the workforce thus affecting quality at a wider range. Therefore employees should be encouraged to use sensible judgement when deciding whether they are fit to work; a good employer should respect this and encourage employees to rest up and get better.

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