LONDON, April 16, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- The cost of working when ill - or sickness presence - could match or account for 1.5 times more working time lost than the cost of sickness absence which has been estimated at around GBP13bn annually. Sickness absence is widely measured and monitored across the public and private sectors, with a strong focus on reducing levels of absenteeism. But could a lack of understanding around presenteeism mean that organisations are unaware of hidden costs and missing opportunities to improve productivity along with employee health and wellbeing?

One of the UK's first studies investigating the links between sickness presence and individual performance, Why do employees come to work when ill? is published today (Friday 16 April) by The Work Foundation. It examines why employees attend work when unwell and addresses a gap in UK data on sickness presence. AXA PPP commissioned the in-depth research study from The Work Foundation to inform and improve their own practices as well as to help their clients. Researchers found that employers may be at risk of underestimating employee ill health and may be missing warning signals by focusing on absence alone.

The study also found that sickness presence was more prevalent than absence with 45% reporting one or more days working when unwell and 18% reporting one or more days' absence over the same four week period. The study also found that those who had time off sick were more likely to work when ill. A recent TUC poll found that around 20% of public and private sector employees had worked when ill within the previous month with a further 36% over the past year. Just 13% claimed they had never worked when too ill.

Lead author Katherine Ashby said, In the current economic climate, with high job insecurity making employees more wary of taking time off, understanding the causes and effects of sickness presence is crucial. In addition to sickness absence, measuring sickness presence may provide a more reliable picture of an organisation's health-related productivity losses.

Researchers found that higher levels of sickness presence were associated with:

- lower levels of manager assessed performance; - lower levels of self-reported psychological wellbeing; - higher levels of sickness absence; - higher levels of work related stress; - experiencing personal financial difficulties; - higher levels of perceived pressure from managers and colleagues to work when unwell.

Katherine Ashby added, It is vital to explore the reasons behind sickness presence especially any work related triggers that are adversely affecting the wellbeing of employees which could be addressed in the workplace. Evidence shows that 'good work' - or well designed jobs - helps to improve motivation, job satisfaction and productivity. We also know that the opposite can lead to reduced psychological wellbeing and ill health. In the same way that sickness absence can be a symptom of underlying issues, levels of sickness presence can also be an important indicator of employee health and wellbeing. Organisations need to be aware that low levels of sickness absence may not tell the whole story. Successfully tackling the underlying causes of sickness presenteeism could improve employee wellbeing and so reduce both sickness presence and sickness absence.

Nick Groom, Distribution Director of AXA PPP said, As leaders in absence management services provision, we were aware that there is scarcely any UK research into why people come to work when ill and we wanted to understand this area better. We decided to commission this in-depth study to inform our management thinking and to assist our many corporate clients to understand and address this issue. We hope that the findings of this research will encourage employers to recognise that an effective health and wellbeing strategy, supported by good management of their employees, is critical to reducing presenteeism and improving performance and productivity.

Notes to editors

1) Why do employees come to work ill? An investigation into sickness presence in the workplace by Katherine Ashby and Michelle Mahdon is available at Katherine Ashby is available for interviews.

2) The CBI AXA absence and labour turnover survey estimates the annual cost of sickness absence to be around GBP13bn and, according to the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, sickness presenteeism could account for more than 1.5 times more working time lost than absenteeism.

3) The Work Foundation is the leading independent authority on work and its future. It aims to improve the quality of working life and the effectiveness of organisations by equipping leaders, policymakers and opinion-formers with evidence, advice, new thinking and networks.

SOURCE: The Work Foundation

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