Employees spend 2.5 weeks a year working when ill – costing businesses £4k per employee in lost productivity

Employees are spending an average 2.5 weeks a year at work despite feeling unwell, according to a research report by academics at Nottingham Business School (NBS)

Being ill at work
Presenteeism - being ill at work

Employees are spending an average 2.5 weeks a year at work despite feeling unwell, according to a research report by academics at Nottingham Business School (NBS)

And this phenomenon of ‘presenteeism’ means that employees are operating at an average of 84% full capacity, making a lost productivity cost to the employer of £4,058.93 per person per annum.

This compares to an average annual sickness absence of 6.63 days each year, meaning that employees are ill for longer at work than they are off sick. Presenteeism is reported to account for more lost productivity than missed work days due to illness – as much as between six and ten times more.

Surprisingly, although colds and flu affect the majority of people in the office (59% reported suffering at least once a year), it’s not the condition which is the cause of most presenteeism. Hand or wrist pain is the top presenteeism condition, with sufferers affected for an average of 81.64 days at work each year, followed by arthritis at 66 days and stress, anxiety and depression (30.33 days).

And it seems that employees aren’t seeking help for their conditions, instead staying at work and suffering in silence. Of the top presenteeism conditions, only 22% of people reporting stress, anxiety and depression are receiving any treatment, 35% for hand and wrist problems and 54% for lower back pain.

Dr Zara Whysall, Senior Lecturer in Business and Management at NBS, part of Nottingham Trent University and co-author of the report, said: “Presenteeism isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as work can be restorative and beneficial for recovery, whereas worklessness can be detrimental to health and wellbeing. However, the problem is not that people are attending work unwell, but that employers are not making the necessary adjustments to adapt work to presenteeism conditions, particularly when it comes to conditions such as back pain or hand or wrist pain.

“A third (31%) of UK organisations reported an increase in presenteeism in recent years, and over half (56%) have failed to take any steps to address it.

“Conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression or lower back pain, if not addressed properly by employers tend to mean that employees move from being sick at work to taking time off – sometimes for long periods of time.

“Employers need to be proactive and address presenteeism by encouraging the employee to report health problems they’re experiencing, then take steps to help them progress back to full productivity rather than going in the opposite direction and taking more time off.  Work can be good for health, but only if it’s well managed.

“Measures such as improvements to the workplace and how tasks are designed and managed, an open discussion between employer and employee on health concerns as well as encouragement to seek early treatment can all enable employees to continue working without exacerbating health.”

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Sarah Mcleod, Press Officer, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8751, or via email.

    Sickness presenteeism: measurement and management challenges is authored by Zara Whysall, James Bowden and Michael Hewitt at Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University.

    A study was carried out using a questionnaire administered to employees of a large UK utilities organisation, and analysed using a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods.

    Nottingham Business School

    Nottingham Business School is internationally recognised as a business school which combines academic excellence with impact on business and society and is considered amongst the top 5% of the world’s business schools. NBS is also amongst the top 30 UK schools by ranking according to Guardian University League Tables 2018, and amongst the top 20 for both graduate level employability (DLHE) and for student satisfaction (NSS) and as part of NTU holds the TEF Gold award.

    It holds international AASCB and EPAS accreditation, and has held 4* overall QS Stars rating since 2013, with 5* in five categories for the quality of its curriculum, teaching, research, business connectivity and international links.

    Its MSc in Management has been ranked by the Financial Times as the 93rd best Master in Management in the world (MiM).

    NBS courses are also accredited by all relevant chartered professional bodies.

    NBS is the leading business school in Europe for personalised and experiential learning. Each and every one of its 5,500 students has their learning experience increasingly tailored to their aspirations through the use of academic and industry mentors, analytics, and a comprehensive range of personal development and experiential learning opportunities.

    A leader in integrating experiential learning into the fabric of all courses at all levels, NBS’ pioneering in-company degrees benefit some 200 students through direct sponsorship by blue-chip companies.

Employees spend 2.5 weeks a year working when ill – costing businesses £4k per employee in lost productivity

Published on 13 October 2017
  • Subject area: Business, management and marketing
  • Category: Press office; Nottingham Business School

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