Working while ill – presenteeism is on the rise

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

working while illHave you gone into work when you were seriously ill? The vast majority of us have gone into work with a minor illness like a cough or cold – we may have woken up and felt somewhat unwell but made it into work regardless, and not suffered any long term consequences because of doing so. But how many of us have forced ourselves into work even when we were suffering with a more serious illness?

If you go into work with a minor illness like a cold, the likelihood is that this will not affect your recovery or even your ability to do your job properly. However, a new survey has found that more and more workers are attending work with much more serious illnesses, including flu-like illness with fever, glandular fever, chicken pox and even norovirus. The survey, run by digital health platform Push Doctor, also found that 88% of people simply don’t feel comfortable calling in sick to work, even when they feel unwell.

Attending work when you’re really unwell (presenteeism) can have serious negative repercussions. For a start, you’ll feel worse – you won’t be getting the rest and sleep you need in order to recover from your illness. Taking some time off to recuperate could mean you get better more quickly, whereas forcing yourself to work could prolong your illness.

Secondly, coming into work with a serious infectious illness can have an impact on your colleagues too. Being in close quarters with someone with a contagious illness puts your co-workers at risk of catching your illness. There are certain infections that present a risk to pregnant women too, such as chickenpox or German measles.

24% of those surveyed said that they were put under pressure by their managers to come into work even when they were unwell.  This can sometimes be a difficult balance for employers, as it is important for employers to promote good attendance, try to prevent irregular attendance and manage those who are frequently absent by setting targets, where appropriate. There does, however, need to be some recognition that occasionally, staff members will have an illness which will render them unfit to come into work.

Employers and employees looking for information on sickness absence and work can visit the Fit for Work Advice Hub, or call 0800 032 6235 (0800 019 2211 for those in Scotland) to speak to a dedicated advisor.

If you’ve been off work for four weeks or more, you can ask your GP or employer to refer you to Fit for Work. They can visit and click on ‘refer an employee/patient’ to do so. You will then receive an occupational health assessment, looking at the obstacles to your return to work, and receive a tailored plan to help you get back quickly and safely.

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