A third of employees ignore medical advice and go to work with an illness

Majority of UK employees have gone to work while suffering with illness in the last 12 months, despite the risk to colleagues.

The latest industry figures show the lowest level of sickness absence since records began almost a quarter of a century ago. However Bupa research highlights that millions head into work despite having an illness, with figures revealing that two-thirds (64 per cent) of UK employees have done so in the last twelve months.

The findings come at a time when increasing productivity is a strategic goal for most business leaders in 2018. But high levels of ‘presenteeism’ are in fact associated with loss of productivity and reduced performance – as employees who push themselves into work when unwell, risk delaying their own recovery.

Bupa’s research shows that more than one in four (27 per cent) employees ignore their doctor’s orders to stay at home and ‘soldier on’.

A third of employees would go to work despite back pain or issues related to their joints and, disturbingly, a similar number (29 per cent) head to work when suffering from mental health issues such as depression. As two of the most common reasons to be signed off work, Bupa’s experts fear these employees risk worsening their health, increasing the likelihood that they’ll need a prolonged period of time off work further down the line.

Stuart Haydock, resilience lead at Bupa Health Services, comments, ‘Over the years we have seen businesses working to create a culture where people feel comfortable discussing their health in the workplace. However it is clear that an element of the stiff upper lip mentality persists and that more needs to be done to encourage employees to safeguard their health and wellbeing, ensuring that they bring their best selves to work.

‘Mental health conditions and musculoskeletal issues are two of the most common reasons for people to be on long term absence from work. Yet, as with most conditions, early diagnosis and treatment improves the chance of a faster recovery. We work with many businesses that signpost their people to tools and support that can help them to improve their resilience and address potential health concerns before they develop into something serious. Wellbeing should be a cornerstone of any workplace health policy and promoting the importance of listening to medical advice is a key part of that.’

Although businesses across the UK are starting to recognise that a healthy workforce is more productive, workload pressure is one of the reasons many people head to work regardless of the state of their health. Many felt their to-do list was too long for them to be able to take time off. A quarter (26 per cent) of people selflessly head into work when they are seriously ill because they worry that their absence will be a burden on their team, unaware that this is counterintuitive.

However, others come into work despite being ill because of a lack of trust and they worry that their colleagues would think they were not genuinely unwell and others worry that being off may impact their job security.

Key findings:

  • 64 per cent of UK respondents have gone into work in the last 12 months despite suffering with an illness
  • 27 per cent ignored their doctor’s advice to stay at home
  • 34 per cent of UK employees go to work when suffering from musculoskeletal issues such as back ache and neck ache
  • 29 per cent of the UK go to work when suffering from stress, anxiety or depression
  • 20 per cent say they went to work when unwell as they had too much work to do to be able to take time off
  • 26 per cent say they went into work when unwell as they felt worried about the burden of their absence on their team
  • 16 per cent say the reason they went to work when unwell was because they felt worried people would think they were not genuinely sick
  • 13 per cent say they went to work when unwell because they felt anxious about their job security

Further reading on staff illness

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

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