Coming into the office sick: The effect of presenteeism on small businesses

Lee Biggins discusses how presenteeism, when employees come into work unwell, can harm a small business and its company culture.

It’s no secret that businesses in the UK have some of the longest working hours in Europe, and that employers across the country are dealing with employees who are not only spending longer hours at work, but also refusing to take their full holiday entitlement. While this is a widely-acknowledged issue, new research from CV-Library has revealed more worrying news; over two-thirds (67.5 per cent) of workers engage in presenteeism (going into work when they’re sick), despite acknowledging that their unproductive, and of no benefit to the business.

While it’s never ideal for an organisation, particularly a small business or start-up, to be operating on a lower headcount, there should come a point when poorly employees are sent home to rest and recuperate, before they make themselves even more unwell, and put other workers at risk of falling ill. It’s therefore essential that employers promote best practice in the workplace, and encourage staff who are genuinely unwell to stay at home, and to only come back to the office when they feel fit to do so. It can be a difficult situation to navigate, however, there is often a way around the issue; below, I’ve outlined some ways in which small businesses can tackle presenteeism.

Offer sickness entitlements

Although there is a risk that some employees may take advantage of sickness entitlements, offering sick pay is one of the easiest ways to combat presenteeism, and ensure that sick staff take the necessary time off to recover. Our research revealed that while only 55.9 per cent of the UK’s workers receive any form of sick pay, a staggering 94.3 per cent believe that all businesses should offer this to staff.

Offering huge amounts of sick leave is unrealistic, however, allowing staff two or three days of sickness entitlement could make a huge difference; it shows your workforce that you value them, and it should encourage them to take the time off when needed. Employees who don’t receive any sick pay often find themselves facing a financial conundrum, where they cannot afford to take the time off, ultimately forcing them into enagging in presenteeism when they would be better off at home.

Encourage flexible working

Employers are often faced with a difficult decision to make if they have to contend with staff who come into the office when they’re contagious, yet insist that they’re well enough to work; the chances are that they’re still likely to be less productive than normal, and they run the risk of infecting their colleagues. In situations like these, flexible working is often a well-received solution; your employee can work from home where they’ll be more comfortable, and the rest of your workforce can avoid any germs doing the rounds.

Give your employees space

If it wasn’t bad enough that employees confess to heading into work when they’re unwell, it should worry employers to hear that over two thirds (68.3 per cent) admit that they feel guilty when they take time off sick, while over a third (34.2 per cent) reveal that their manager puts pressure on them to return to work early. Furthermore, over half (52.9 per cent) confess that their manager still contacts then when they’re off sick, questioning whether they’re genuinely ill and making it difficult for staff to relax and recover.

Keep the workforce motivated

If illness is going around the workforce, and it’s likely that this may be the case as the autumn kicks in and the traditional ‘cold and sniffle’ season begins, it’s important that business owners keep their workforce happy and motivated. It’s all too easy to become run down and unwell, particularly if staff are coming into the office when they’d be better off tucked up at home. By showing staff that you value their health and wellbeing, you’re far more likely see any staff who are unwell calling in sick, and the rest of your workforce coming into the office happy and motivated, and ultimately this is key to driving productivity.

It can be all too easy for a dangerous culture to form where staff push themselves to the limit and feel guilty for taking time off when they’re unwell, but this will only result in decreased productivity and damage to your business in the long run. By promoting a healthy working environment and supporting staff who need time off to recover from illness, you should find yourself with a happy workforce and optimum output.

Lee Biggins is CEO of CV-Library. 

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