More and more stressed workers are turning up to work when they should really be at home recovering. Since the start of the global economic turndown there has been a fall in the number of working days lost due to sickness. In cases where people do take a day or more off sick, the number of cases due to stress has also fallen. So has work suddenly become less stressful or are other factors in play?
Going to work while ill is called presenteeism. There are a couple of reasons why this occurs. The first is that you might be part of a small team, perhaps working in a business that is hanging on by the fingernails. Every single person in the team matters and you know the effect it can have if one or more people aren’t around. The burden on colleagues increases and you simply don’t want to let the team down. The second reason is more anxiety related. During times of job insecurity there is pressure on managers and their workforce to be ever more competitive. Absenteeism costs money and it’s something that is easy to measure and record. If people in a workforce feel vulnerable the last thing they want is to have a poor sickness record. Bluntly put, nobody wants to appear weak in case they lose their job.
I live and work in the United Kingdom. Data from the Office for National Statistics tells me that the average number of days lost due to sickness per person gradually dropped from 7.2 in 1995 to 4.5 in 2010. Mark King’s report in The Guardian newspaper reveals that the number of recorded cases of absence due to work stress has dropped significantly. Within his column, Work Foundation representative Ksenia Zheltoukhova stated the trend reflects people’s fear of losing their job. This is supported by a 2011 survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development who found that half the organizations in the survey admitted to using employee absence records as part of the criteria when selecting for redundancy.
Presenteeism is now very much a feature of working life. More than 28 per cent of employers in the CIPD survey noticed an increase in the numbers of ill people at work: nearly two-fifths reporting anxiety and depression among employees.
Each year, the American Psychological Association (APA) commissions a nationwide stress survey. The Stress in America Survey reports money (75 percent), work (70 percent) and the economy (67 percent) as the most frequently cited causes of stress. This year, as with previous years, women were more likely to report feeling stressed. Men are less likely than women to believe that stress can affect their health and appear less inclined to recognize stress. Men however are much more inclined to report being diagnosed with diseases that have a clear association to lifestyle and stress. A good number of people still report unhealthy behaviors associated with stress. Sleep problems, skipping meals, irritation and anger and reduced sex drive are most common in younger men, who are also more likely to be stressed by the economy.
According to the APA survey, more adults report that their stress is increasing than decreasing. Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed said their stress had increased over the past year and 44 percent said their stress had increased over the past five years. This is offset to some extent by reports that 27 percent of adults say their stress had decreased over the past five years and 7 percent in the past year.
The issue with presenteeism is that it ultimately becomes hugely costly. At the most basic level, the spreading of viral infections isn't in anyone's interests. An unhealthy workforce results in more errors, more accidents and reduced productivity. The Centre for Mental Health also makes the point that only a small part of ill health in the workforce is actually caused by work, which on the whole is good for health. A climate of anxiety however simply feeds stress, which in turn has a depleting effect on everyone. It is therefore in the best interests of companies not to turn the screw too tightly on its workforce if they want to get the best out of them.
Published On: May 17, 2012