Sick on the job?

25 May 2017


UK employees are three times more likely to go to work unwell than 'pull a sickie' according to research from Aviva.


The fourth edition of Aviva’s Working Lives report – which examines the attitudes and experiences of employers and employees on issues affecting the present and future of the UK workplace – carries a wake-up call to businesses, as more than two in five (43%) employees feel their employer puts the results of the company ahead of their health and wellbeing.

However, the findings also illustrate that through investing in the health and wellbeing of their employees, employers can generate tangible returns, with over three in four (77%) businesses who offer benefits highlighting a positive impact on the workforce.


Widespread ‘presenteeism’ as average sick days fall

In what may be a surprise to employers, Aviva’s findings suggest private sector workers are fearful of heavy workloads if they take time off, as more than one in five (41%) say their work will pile up if they are off sick. With people continuing to work while they are unwell, it is likely that they are less productive as a consequence and in turn could also affect the health of other employees.

The worrying trend comes against the backdrop of a historic fall in the average number of sick days taken annually by UK employees, dropping to a record low of 4.3 days in 2016 compared with 7.2 days in 1993 when tracking began.


Minority of employers give increased attention to health and wellbeing

The report findings highlight that only 13% of employers feel there has been more of a focus on employee health and wellbeing over the past year, while just over one in ten (12%) feel there has been an improvement in the working environment over the past year, with employees seeming healthier and happier.

Such views chime with employees’ own assessment of their situation: more than two in five (42%) admit they often feel stressed or anxious at work, rising to 46% among younger workers (18-34 year olds). Employers could also be underestimating the impact stress has on their employees, as only 23% cite this as an issue. Instead, employers view coping with workload (32%) and dealing with change (24%) as greater challenges faced by their employees.


Investing in health and wellbeing pays off

However, Aviva’s findings also suggest that those businesses who do invest in their employees’ health and wellbeing are reaping the rewards. Of those that offer health and wellbeing benefits, more than three in four (77%) believe this has had a positive impact on the workforce. Employers also report increased happiness levels (41%) among employees with improved morale (32%) and productivity (30%) as a result of having initiatives in place to keep employees healthy.

Furthermore, in a sign of potential changes afoot, two in three (65%) businesses think the workforce will work more flexibly in five years’ time. Notably, of the 64% of businesses who currently offer flexible working, almost seven in ten (68%) said their employees were happier as a consequence.