19 May 2016

Turning up for work when feeling ill is generally regarded as a sign that employees are under too much pressure and of a workplace based on delivering targets with little regard for the well-being of those employees.

Think again, suggests a new report on "presenteeism" by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES).

Challenging the idea that workers have to be totally fit before returning to work, the report argues that the workplace can have a beneficial effect on rehabilitation and recovery, even for workers with serious health conditions.

IES Principal Associate Dr Valerie Garrow looked at research from across the world on the causes and impact of people "showing up to work when ill".

The report highlights that people with some forms of mental illness, those who have financial worries, and those fearful of losing their jobs are among the workers most likely to fall into this category.

It concedes that, in many cases, presenteeism can be damaging to health and also represents a hidden cause of reduced productivity — becoming an even bigger burden than sickness absence from work in some sectors.

"However," Dr Garrow said, "our report shows very clearly that if people with ill-health are on the journey back to work after an illness or injury, having access to a phased or graduated return to work where they perform reduced duties or work fewer hours can benefit both them and their employer."

The challenge, according to Professor Stephen Bevan, Head of HR Research Development at IES, is for employers to create environments where people with health problems feel confident to disclose them to their bosses, so that they can get the help they need to use a gradual return to work to build their confidence and speed up recovery.