You log into your virtual stand-up meeting to start your workday. One of your workers coughs and sniffles a bit, but insists he is fine – and well enough to work.
Sound familiar? A growing number of workers are ignoring their physical symptoms and pushing through sick days without announcing it. Even during the pandemic, many countries reported some of the lowest numbers of workers taking sick days in years.
Working when you’re physically, mentally or emotionally unwell is called presenteeism – and, unfortunately, it's becoming more common.
Why do people feel compelled to work, even when they don’t feel well?
Some employees, like teachers or nurses, know that being absent will likely create more work for their colleagues. Others feel like they cannot take a sick day, because their managers request their (virtual) presence. On the other hand, some workers who might be facing a restructuring or who might be working on a fixed-term contract, do not feel as if they can afford to take a sick day when their boss might see attendance as a sign of commitment.
The Impact of Working While Sick
Since the start of the pandemic, workers across the globe have reported coming into work while under the weather. Presenteeism can have a big impact on productivity and output, though.
In the U.K., as many as 83% of employees said they witnessed “presenteeism,” or working while sick, in their workplace in the past 12 months, according to a survey of health and wellbeing at work by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. In comparison, that share of workers was reported at 24% in 2010, just after the global financial crisis.
At the same time, data shows that the number of U.K. employees taking sick leave has reached an all-time low. Workers are taking just 5.9 days per person per year amid the pandemic. A separate ONS survey found that the share of people taking sick days in the UK dropped to the lowest since 1995 as people were forced to work from home.