Absence, presenteeism and stress all on rise: CIPD study

New research from the CIPD and Simplyhealth suggests wellbeing at work is under pressure, with presenteeism - people attending work when unwell - tripling since 2010, and mental ill-health increasing.

Image of man at desk holding head in hands
Almost nine in ten (86%) of the over 1,000 respondents to the CIPD/Simplyhealth Wellbeing at Work survey said they had observed presenteeism in their organisation over the last 12 months. This latest figure continues a growing trend. In 2010, the figure was just 26%, rising to 72% in 2016. "It’s concerning to see that levels of presenteeism have risen significantly over the last eight years and more so that fewer employers are taking proactive steps to discourage it," said Pam Whelan, director of corporate at SimplyhealthThe CIPD is also concerned about the uptick in presenteeism, explaining it is associated with higher reporting of common mental health conditions and stress-related absence, which are among the top causes of long-term sickness absence according to the survey.Significantly more respondents (55%) have reported an increase in common mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, among employees in the last 12 months, compared with 2016 (41%). The survey also shows a rise in the average level of employee absence to 6.6 days per employee per year from 6.3 in 2016.
Other news and features from Relocate Global:

Impact of ill-health on individuals, employers and the economy

As well as blighting people's lives, these upward trends could open more employers to employment tribunal cases, impact company performance and employer brand. They also coincide with a growing number of reports that suggest workloads are increasing, especially for Millennials and “stressed” senior and middle managers.Alongside increasing presenteeism, the survey also found “leaveism” such as people using annual leave to work, is a growing problem. More than two-thirds of respondents (69%) reported this has occurred in their organisation over the last year.Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, comments: “The survey shines a light on the shocking scale of presenteeism and leaveism we have in the UK, as people feel under even more pressure at work."Increasingly, the threats to wellbeing in the modern workplace are psychological rather than physical, and yet too few organisations are discouraging unhealthy workplace practices and tackling stress, which is strongly linked to health conditions such as anxiety and depression.”Only 27% of those who have experienced leaveism say their organisation is taking action to tackle it. Similarly, just a quarter of respondents that have experienced presenteeism (25%) say their organisation has taken steps to discourage it over the last year, a figure that has almost halved since 2016 (48%). Equally worrying is that less than six in ten (58%) respondents say their organisation is currently meeting the basic legal requirements for reducing stress in the workplace.

Remedying workplace ill-health

More encouraging is the survey found a focus on employee wellbeing as a whole can reduce unhealthy workplace practices. Respondents who agreed their senior leaders and line managers have brought into the value of employee well-being were twice as likely to report that steps have been taken to reduce presenteeism compared with those who disagreed. Leaveism is also less common in organisations that are more focused on employee wellbeing. Despite this, nearly one in five respondents (18%) report that their organisation isn’t doing anything to improve employee health and wellbeing, compared with just 8% in 2016.“In order to encourage a healthy workplace, organisations need to look beyond sickness absence rates alone and develop a solid, evidence-based understanding of the underlying causes of work-related stress and unhealthy behaviour like presenteeism," says Rachel Suff. “Without this evidence base, efforts to support employees and improve their health and well-being will be short-lived.”

Workplace wellbeing a leadership issue?

“Good leadership and people management practices form the bedrock of healthy and resilient workplaces, so every employer needs to focus their attention on these areas if they want long-term, sustainable change,' Rachel Suff continues.“It’s positive to see that employers who are taking action against unhealthy workplace practices are seeing the benefits of doing so, but we know that that employee wellbeing is still too low down the agenda for many other organisations.“If employers want to build a workforce that is happy, healthy and productive, the wellbeing agenda needs to be a priority and employee wellbeing practices must be integrated in the organisation’s day-to-day operations.“The report shows that organisations where senior leaders and line managers recognise the importance of wellbeing as a whole are more likely to report a reduction in presenteeism and leaveism.“Therefore, in order to tackle these unhealthy work practices, we would encourage employers to invest in a wider health and wellbeing approach that is embedded into their culture and one that supports a preventative approach to employee health and wellbeing.”
Festival thumbnail
Join us on 11 May for the Relocate Festival of Global Mobility Thinking at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London where our unique interactive conference will explore the themes of innovation, agility and leadership. Buy your tickets here
For related news and features, visit our Human Resources section. Find out more about our upcoming Relocate AwardsRelocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online Directory