Presenteeism on the rise as over as 90% of UK workers go to work whilst ill

Presenteeism is on the rise as new research from Canada Life highlights that taking time off for a mental illness is still less accepted than taking a sick day for physical health.

Presenteeism now costs businesses twice that of absenteeism, despite the rise in public awareness of mental health issues, and the fact that it is an employer’s duty of care to take note of their employees’ welfare, and part of this is building awareness of mental health amongst employees.

The Canada Life research highlights that mental health presenteeism is a growing issue in the UK.

Nearly half (47%) of all employees surveyed didn’t take a sick day in 2017, with one in five (19%) believing they would be perceived as weak if they did
A quarter (25%) said their workload was too great for them to take time off.

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Number of sick days rises as presenteeism takes its toll

For those that did take time off, the average number of sick days taken in 2017 rose by 57% from 2.8 in 2016 to 4.4 in 2017

Over a fifth (22%) of employees went in to work when feeling mentally ill last year, despite the number of employees not taking a sick day decreasing from 54% in 2016 to 47% in 2017.

21% admit that they are more likely to go in to work when feeling unwell from a mental health problem, rather than a physical illness. And 15% state that their boss and colleagues would not take them seriously if they took time off for a mental health issue, an increase from 12% in 2017. Meanwhile, the same proportion worry that taking time off for a mental illness would jeopardise their opportunities for progression.

How you think about stress has a big impact on how you deal with stress
The cost of Presenteeism to a business is now double the cost of absenteeism

Presenteeism is a vicious cycle and costs businesses twice that of absenteeism

Presenteeism is a vicious cycle; the drive to remain in the office can cause illness to spread or end up leading to a longer recovery time. This cycle perpetuates mental health issues. The underlying stress that drives people to work rather than recover causes both physical and mental health decline is not being addressed.

A recent report by Nottingham Business school shows that presenteeism is costing businesses twice that of their absence cost.

Making a change – the culture of wellness starts at the top of the business

The uptake of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) has improved the awareness of mental health issues but isn’t fixing the problem. The Health and Safety Executive issued a report  in 2018 stating that they have yet to see “that it has improved the wider management of mental ill-health“. Unfortunately in too many businesses, physical and mental first aid is still seen as a palliative action undertaken by junior staff.

Reduce Presenteeism through training

The culture of the organisation – the unwritten rules dictating work ethic, behaviour and the icons of success are the strongest contributors to good mental health.

It’s the behaviour of leaders during the busiest, highest stress times of the year, that define the culture of the business. So addressing how leaders handle stress and pressure has a knock on effect on what it means to be a high performer, or highly valued member in the business. Addressing the culture of the business is essential for long term employee mental health and therefore business performance.

Learn how to develop resilient teams

Resilience training improves significantly reduces both presenteeism and absenteeism. Ready to learn more, then access our FREE video on methods to build Resilient Teams.

Reduce presenteeism by building stress resilient teams - click here to access FREE video training
Reduce presenteeism by building stress resilient teams – click here to access FREE video training


Further reading

“9 in 10 UK workers came into work despite being ill in 2017” – Canada Life

“Summary of the evidence on the effectiveness of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training in the workplace” – Health and Safety Executive

“Presenteeism costs more than £4,000 per employee” – People Management

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


Experienced business leader, mentor and coach, with fascinations for technology, psychology and ancient philosophies. A self-confessed techno hippy with a unique talent for bringing the best out in people.

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