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Study seeks to understand why employees still work when unwell

A new study which seeks to understand why people continue to work when they are ill has been launched by researchers at Nottingham Trent University.

Woman looking ill at a computer
The study will explore presenteeism and the reasons why people still work when they are mentally or physically unwell

Presenteeism, which refers to people working when mentally or physically unwell, is a very common occurrence, with more than 2.4 million employees in the UK reported having observed presenteeism at their workplace in the previous year, according to a study by CIPD.

The phenomenon costs UK employers between £16.8 - £26.4bn per year and is linked to sickness absence and burnout. Despite the high cost and prevalence across sectors and job-types, little is known about the actual behaviour, how people choose presenteeism over absenteeism, or how it can be managed.

The three-part study, which is being carried out by researchers at Nottingham Business School and the School of Social Sciences, includes an initial organisation-wide survey, a focused diary study and interviews.

The survey will provide an overall picture of the workplace, the types of health conditions most commonly experienced and employee perceptions of presenteeism and absenteeism.

The diary study will explore how employees make their decisions to go to work or work from home when they are not feeling well, by completing a small number of questions each working day via online survey for up to three weeks.

Finally, interviews with employees and line managers will question how they feel about their decisions, the impacts caused by their decision, and what kind of support and adjustment respondents tend to receive and might benefit from.

By taking part in the research, organisations will benefit from tailored feedback and advice on managing presenteeism within their organisation, so as to promote health and well-being, boost productivity, and provide a better work experience for employees.

Lead researcher, Huijun Chen, said: “Since the pandemic started, the trend of working from home is dramatically rising, which is adding more strain on people’s mental health because of the blurring of work and non-work boundaries. Nowadays it is even more important to understand how we can set boundaries between work life and home life so as to protect our health and our productivity.”

“At the end of the study, we will have developed insights into how employees decide whether to work when they are unwell and how they can be better supported to make decisions that optimise their productivity whilst supporting their mental and physical health.”

The research team includes PhD researcher, Huijun Chen, Dr. Zara Whysall, Nottingham Business School, and Dr. Maria Karanika-Murray, School of Social Sciences.

For further information and to take part, email Huijun Chen or Presenteeism Decision Making

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    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) was named University of the Year 2019 in the Guardian University Awards. The award was based on performance and improvement in the Guardian University Guide, retention of students from low-participation areas and attainment of BME students.

    NTU was also the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2017, and The Times and Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2018. These awards recognise NTU for its high levels of student satisfaction, its quality of teaching, its engagement with employers, and its overall student experience.

    The university has been rated Gold in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework – the highest ranking available.

    It is one of the largest UK universities. With nearly 32,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across four campuses, the University contributes £900m to the UK economy every year. With an international student population of more than 3,000 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook.

    The university is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was awarded University of the Year in the UK Social Mobility Awards 2019.

    A total of 82% of its graduates go on to graduate entry employment or graduate entry education or training within six months of leaving. Student satisfaction is high: NTU achieved an 87% satisfaction score in the 2020 National Student Survey, above the sector average of 83%.

Study seeks to understand why employees still work when unwell

Published on 1 October 2020
  • Category: Press office; Research; Nottingham Business School; School of Social Sciences

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