Stress is "21st century Black Death" as workers fearing redundancy forgo sick leave


According to a new report, millions of British employees are too stressed and fearful of redundancy to take time off sick, even if they are very ill.

Redundancy at work - employment law

The 2012 Absence Management survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), says the UK's "culture of presenteeism" means more employees are choosing to attend work instead of taking time off to recover from illness.

According to the report, a third of employers have reported a rise over the last 12 months in the number of workers who "struggle into work when unwell".

Among public sector workers, the average number of sick days an individual worker is taking per year is the lowest for 10 years, decreasing to 7.9 in 2012. In the private sector, the number has fallen from 6.5 days’ sickness absence per year in 2011 to 5.8 days sickness absence in 2012.

Across both public and private sectors, the average number of sick days taken by workers has dropped from an average of 7.7 days in 2011 to 6.8 days in 2012.

The study also found that half of bosses who responded to the survey decided who should be made redundant based on a review of their workers' absence records.

The findings of the CIPD study, which canvassed some 670 UK employers, demonstrate the degree to which workers are frightened of losing their jobs during the recession.

The report said: "Employees struggle to work while ill to demonstrate their commitment, particularly when their job security is threatened."

The CIPD said stress is the "21st-century equivalent of the Black Death" and is the most common cause of long-term sickness absence (‘long term’ being defined in this case as taking 4 weeks or more off work at one time due to illness).

The CIPD added that coming into work when sick can have "a damaging effect" on both employers and workers as workers who come into work while ill can spread serious illnesses such as influenza to other workers. Such 'presenteeism' also leaves workers less effective and more likely to make expensive errors. Workers are also more likely to face a longer period of recovery from their illness if they do not take time off to recover initially.

Professor Cary Cooper, an expert in organisational psychology at Lancaster University Management School, expressed concern about the CIPD report. On conducting his own study of 39,000 workers, the academic found almost 30% have suffered from ‘sickness presenteeism’ (i.e. coming into work despite being sick) in the past year.

"People are so frightened that they are turning up to work when they are unwell," Professor Cooper said. "At this time of such high job insecurity, would you want to be ill and off work? No."

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