New research: UK employees too afraid to take a sick day

February 13, 2019

Have you ever found yourself questioning whether or not an employee really is sick? If so, then you may be contributing to a national problem. You see, the number of employees too afraid to take a sick day is growing – and that’s not good for their wellbeing, or for your business.

To mark National Sickie Day 2019, we surveyed over 2,000 adults across the UK. We discovered that 79% go to work while sick. For many people, this is because they fear judgement, or feel pressure from their boss.

We hope that our research sheds some light on the pressing need to give employees time to rest and recover if they are physically or mentally unwell.

Why 79% of UK employees are too afraid to take a sick day

Our research revealed that 79% of UK employees admit going to work while physically or mentally unwell. And even when they don’t force themselves to go in, 67% of UK employees feel guilty about taking time off work due to health-related issues.

The reasons people forced themselves to work despite being ill, included:

  • Worried about falling behind on workload (40%)
  • Pressure from their boss (24%)
  • Wanting to be seen in the office (22%)

22% of respondents said they had also forced themselves to go to work because they don’t get sick pay. It’s also interesting to note that 30% of respondents were too scared to talk to their bosses about needing time off, and 40% of respondents felt their bosses didn’t believe that they were genuinely ill when they actually rang in sick.

These are the most common illnesses that people come to work with

In our survey, we asked what kinds of illnesses people were suffering from, when they had forced themselves to go to work anyway. Here are some of the most common:

  • Colds and flu (66%)
  • Back and joint pains (28%)
  • Stomach ailments (24%)
  • Stress or emotional crises (22%)

As an employer, it is normal for you to want your employees to come to work. But if you’re not careful, you can facilitate ‘presenteeism’ – where employees are physically present, but not really fit to be working.

“Companies who encourage people to rest when they are physically or mentally unwell, benefit from lower staff turnover and better productivity” said Sat Sindhar, Managing Director at People HR. “Besides, is it really responsible to let an ill person serve food, operate dangerous machinery, or run payroll?”

The difference between men and women

As you might expect, we found a significant difference when we compared male and female responses. While both genders were well-represented in being afraid to take a sick day, their reasons for turning up to work differed somewhat.

One big difference, was that men were more concerned with missing out on work opportunities (16% vs 10%), while women were more concerned with being judged by other colleagues (16% vs 10%).

Overall, women were slightly more likely to go into work despite needing time off (82% vs 77%). This could be linked to the fact that they were more likely to feel that their boss didn’t believe them when they were genuinely ill (42% vs 38%).

32% of women were nervous about approaching their boss about taking a sick day, whereas only 27% of men shared the same concern.

This is what you can do to improve your employees’ wellbeing

We asked UK employees what they would want from their employer, in order to improve their wellbeing and do a better job. The 10 most popular selections were:

  1. An extra day off for your birthday (33%)
  2. Free breakfast (30%)
  3. Unlimited holiday (29%)
  4. Fruit provided (27%)
  5. Allocated ‘duvet days’ (25%)
  6. Health insurance (25%)
  7. A work ‘nap room’ (23%)
  8. Free massages at work (22%)
  9. Free yoga classes during work hours (19%)
  10. Discounted membership at nearby gyms (17%)

Despite the fact that giving employees an extra day off on their birthday was the most popular benefit, only 7% of respondents said that their company actually offered this.

About this research

This research was commissioned by People HR, and carried out by Atomik Research. The data was collected via an online survey of 2,002 UK adults aged 18+, which took place on 10th-15th January 2019. Atomik Research is an independent creative market research agency that employs MRS-certified researches and abides to MRS code.

Please feel free to use the figures published in this article to support your own content. When doing so, please attribute the research to People HR, and include a link back to this page.

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