In 2015, CIPD statistics told us that employee absence had risen to 6.9 days per employee per year on average in the UK, and only 25% of organisations achieved their absence target for 2014.
Unsurprisingly, the working world is now desperately trying to find out how to address this because of the huge impact that absenteeism has on productivity.
The Labour Force Survey results show that approximately 10 million days were lost to stress, anxiety or depression in 2014/2015, and statistics show that these figures are worsening year on year. Stress at work, leading to long-term absence, has more than doubled since the 1990s, yet only a third of employees receive any support to manage workplace stress.
This is bad news for business. Many organisations are now turning to wellbeing programs in an attempt to combat the ever worsening stress levels, but it has been suggested that for some companies, this is simply a move to tick a box as opposed to a reaction to genuine concern or understanding. The CIPD suggests that the majority of employers are more reactive than proactive in their approach to wellbeing (61 per cent), responding to persistent problems rather than predicting what health and wellbeing factors might impact the workforce in future.
It would appear that employers now grasp the concept of engagement, but for some reason don’t fully comprehend the intrinsic link that exists between engagement and wellbeing. Simply put, the healthier and happier an employee is, the more engaged they are: Paul Devoy, head of IiP, said: “Organisations need to see staff health and well-being as crucial to their business and staff retention.” He added: “Happier staff are less likely to take time off sick.”
It is saddening that in most cases, employee wellbeing only becomes an issue because it affects business. Let’s go back to the Labour Force Survey results, which show approximately 10 million days lost to stress, anxiety or depression in 2014/2015.
Over this period, there were 440, 000 cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety. What on earth are we doing to our employees?
Here’s a one-word glimpse into the reality of the current state of our workforce: Leaveism. The term has only recently been coined, but the phenomenon has existed for quite a while: ‘Leaveism is when employees use allocated time off – such as annual leave entitlements, banked flexi-hours and re-rostered rest days – when they are in fact unwell.’
Research has found that 76 per cent of employees who have practised leaveism have done so to avoid being labelled as ‘poor performers’, or because they don’t want to be viewed as being unable to cope with their workload. This ultimately means that a large amount of sickness absence is going underreported, and is distorting both the incidence of sickness in the workplace and worryingly, the ability to fully get to grips with employee wellbeing.
You might be asking yourself ‘Why would anyone do that?’…If you’re asking that question, you have probably not worked in an organisation that has a ‘quota of sickness’ which if exceeded supposedly reflects poor performance. Speaking from experience (happily a good few companies ago), taking annual leave rather than sickness leave makes a lot of sense when you are worried about being hauled into an office and grilled about your performance and commitment.
It seems that some companies fail to realise that by creating extra stress around health issues in the workplace, they are only going to create a vicious cycle of illness and absenteeism. “Organisations which fail to implement health and wellbeing policies – despite being aware of their importance – are putting employee and business health at risk” the CIPD has warned.
This is a clear message. While the business impact should of course be taken into account, we need to recognise that this is about a deep-rooted wellbeing problem. As with most issues, one way to address the situation surrounding employee wellbeing is to start with communication. Go to the root of the problem.
We need to find out what individuals in the workforce really need from their roles and employers in order to stay healthy and motivated, rather than throwing systems at them and asking them why they aren’t happy yet. Unfortunately, there is probably no one-size-fits-all resolution at this point, but understanding individual needs and issues is surely a starting point. Let’s not forget that our workforces are built from complex human beings.