Fall in absence levels could be masking deeper problems in the workplace
As average employee absence falls by almost a day, levels of presenteeism, stress and mental health problems in the workplace rise, finds CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence survey
The average level of employee absence has fallen compared with last year from 7.7 days to 6.8 per employee per year, according to this year’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)/Simplyhealth Absence Management survey.
However, the fall in absence levels coincides with almost a third of employers reporting an increase in the number of people going into work ill. The threat of redundancies and concerns over job security are shown to contribute to such ‘presenteeism’, with organisations that are expecting to make redundancies in the next six months more likely to report an increase in employees going into work when unwell, than employers that are not expecting to cut jobs.
Stress-related absence also appears to be on the increase, with two-fifths of employers (40%) reporting a rise over the past year and only one in ten (10%) reporting that the problem had decreased. Stress continues to feature as the most common cause of long-term absence, for the second year running. The level of reported mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, among employees is also on the increase. More than twice the number of employers reported an increase in mental health problems in 2012 than did in 2009 (2012: 44%; 2011: 39%; 2010: 38%; 2009: 21%).
According to the survey, organisations who have noted an increase in presenteeism over the past year are more likely to report an increase in stress-related absence over the same period (52% compared with 38% of those who did not report an increase in people coming in to work ill). Similarly, they are more likely to report an increase in mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression (62% compared with 35% of those who did not report an increase in people coming into work ill). The suggested link between presenteeism and both stress and mental health problems underlines the need for organisations to take pre-emptive action to address employees’ concerns in times of challenge, uncertainty and change.
Commenting on the survey findings, Dr Jill Miller, Research Adviser at CIPD says: “On the face of it, the findings from this year’s survey present some positive news. But we must air caution before celebrating lower absence levels because they may be masking deeper problems in the workplace. This year sees a continued increase in presenteeism which can have a damaging effect on organisations’ productivity. Not only can illnesses be passed on to other colleagues, but ill employees are likely to work less effectively than usual, may be more prone to making costly mistakes and take longer to recover from their illnesses.
“Continuing economic uncertainty and fears over job security appears to be taking its toll on employees. We are seeing employees struggling into work to demonstrate their commitment, suggesting presenteeism can be a sign of anxiety. Failing to address employees’ concerns is likely to confound the issue, impact on morale and commitment and may cause or exacerbate stress or mental health problems.