British managers too afraid to call in sick

Oct 12 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Calling in sick is a luxury British managers increasingly feel they can ill afford, with one in three so afraid of being branded work-shy that they will drag themselves into work even when almost on their death bed.

A poll of more than 1,500 workers and managers by UK's Chartered Management Institute has found evidence for a deep-rooted culture of "presenteeism" in British workplaces.

Yet, while managers may be applauded for their commitment to the job, all this is doing is spreading illness and infections around workplaces, reducing productivity and causing workers' general health to deteriorate, the CMI warned.

Its Quality of Working Life report found that only half felt they would be treated sympathetically if they were to call in sick.

Just one in three felt they were operating anywhere near peak performance levels, with many blaming ill-health for the drop in productivity.

The survey is at odds with yesterday's U.S. poll by consultancy CCH, which argued that two thirds of American workers who called in sick were not actually ill at all, costing businesses some three quarters of a millions dollar a year in lost payroll alone.

The CMI poll is not the only one to paint a picture of neglect by businesses when it comes to workplace health.

A poll by the UK organisation Business In The Community has found that a third of workers feel their health is neglected at work, while six out of 10 do not believe bosses consider staff as assets worth investing in.

Almost half claimed apathy towards employee wellbeing had taken its toll on their workplace productivity.

The CMI also found a staggeringly high one in two managers said they were not "positively motivated" about their work, with more than half suggesting they worked beyond contract hours because of "work volume" and "deadlines".

Fewer were prepared to "make up lost time" too, with only a third two hours or more per day over contracted hours, down from 45 per cent in 2000.

More than seven out of 10 suggested that ill-health reduced "enjoyment of their job" and although half said their "organisation is committed to employee well-being" only 46 per cent agreed that their line-manager cared specifically about their health.

Jo Causon, director, marketing and corporate affairs at the CMI, said: "While many employers bemoan the cost of absence to their organisations, they fail to see the damage done by creating a culture where illness is seen as a weakness.

"The risk of mistakes or spreading sickness surely outweighs the short-term benefits of someone turning up for work when not fully fit," she added.

The BITC poll, meanwhile, found four out of 10 workers complaining of being discouraged from taking sick days when unwell with a similar number feeling under pressure to do unpaid overtime or even take a full lunch hour.

Half said they were suffering from stress, more than a third from depression and a fifth from panic attacks.

Stephen Howard, managing director of BITC, said: "We know substantial investment is already being made in employee wellbeing, however, public reporting in this area is almost non existent.

"Our aim is to increase business accountability and competitiveness by helping companies introduce simple health and wellbeing programmes that can be effectively measured against the bottom line," he added.

A separate poll, meanwhile, by cold-cure manufacturer Lemsip has found that one in 20 workers still manage a night on the town even when they can't make it into work.