70% of UK workers still go to work even when they are ill, survey finds

Britsh employees feel their employer prioritises the performance of the company over the workforce’s health and wellbeing

Zlata Rodionova
Tuesday 16 May 2017 00:05 BST
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Seven in ten UK employees have gone to work unwell
Seven in ten UK employees have gone to work unwell (PhotoAlto/REX)

A slightly sore throat and a bit of a sniffle won’t keep Brits out of work, new research suggests.

According to a report published by insurance company Aviva on Tuesday, millions of people in the UK have gone to work when they were ill instead of taking the day off, driven by heavy workloads and employers promoting a culture of face-time.

The report shows that seven out of 10 employees in private firms – the equivalent of 18 million nationally – have at some point come into the office despite being unwell. More than two in five of 2,000 employees surveyed for the report said that they feel their employer prioritises the performance of the company over the workforce’s health and wellbeing.

In fact, more than 40 per cent of those surveyed said they were afraid work would pile up if they were to stay off sick, even though Aviva said that employees who continue to work while feeling unwell are likely to be less productive and could also affect the health of their colleagues.

Dr Doug Wright, medical director at Aviva UK Health, said having employees who are unwell at work is a “false economy”.

“Businesses need to ensure they create a working culture whereby people do not feel pressurised into coming to work when they are unwell, safe in the knowledge their absence can be effectively managed,” he said.

"Presenteeism, driven in part by an increased 'always-on' culture, poses a genuine threat to overall business performance through the adverse impact on productivity and morale in the workplace," he added.

Last year, the number of sick days taken annually by British employees fell to its lowest level since records began almost 25 years ago.

Workers in 2016 took an average of just 4.3 days off work because of illness, down from the 7.2 chalked up in 1993, according to the Office for National Statistics.

In total, around 137 million working days were lost from injuries and illnesses last year - down from a peak of 185 million in 1999, despite an increase in the number of people in the workforce since then.

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