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65% of SME employees unlikely to take sick leave when WFH, says new data

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Lack of well-being benefits for SME works 

A recent survey revealed that 65% of SME employees are hesitant to take sick leave when working from home.

The survey, conducted by HR Software provider Breathe, looked at the current state of well-being among SME employees. The survey was conducted across 1,264 UK SME employees, and the respondents were asked a series of questions regarding sick leave, mental health, and remote working. The goal of the survey was to establish whether the pandemic had a lasting effect on the working world and the impact of hybrid working.

According to the data, there is an ongoing pattern of presenteeism, with 65% of respondents saying they are less likely to take sick leave when working remotely and 42% of respondents feeling the need to prove their productivity while working remotely.

Of the workers who didn’t take sick leave, despite feeling unwell:

  • 32% could not financially afford to take time off work
  • 25% were too busy to do to take time off
  • 21% didn’t want to let their colleagues down
  • 20% felt pressured to work through it

The data suggests a lack of benefits aimed at employee well-being. Seventy-two percent of SMEs do not offer well-being days despite 35% of workers feeling that well-being days would be helpful.

The survey also found that only half of SMEs offer flexible working, even though 67% of the respondents believe that WFH supports work-life balance and overall well-being

Another finding was that 54% of SME employees work overtime when WFH. Forty-four percent of employees struggle with feeling ‘seen’ by their employers. A further 47% said they were less inclined to take a lunch break when working from home.

The survey also found that:

  • 41% of workers felt that their symptoms weren’t severe enough to take sick leave
  • 36% of SME workers reported mental health issues in the past three months
  • 12% of workers have taken sick leave for mental health reasons
  • 67% of SME workers say working from home improves their work-life balance, but 54% report they are still more likely to work longer hours than usual
  • 48% of SME employees are offered flexible working whereas 27% are not offered it but would find it the most useful benefit

Balancing a company culture in a hybrid working world is a challenge, and SME leaders need to address toxic traits in their existing culture, like overworking and presenteeism, to maintain a healthy and productive workforce.

Rachel King, UK General Manager, Breathe, commented: “The benefits for mental and physical well-being that come from a flexible approach to work patterns have been widely discussed but are still so important. Flexible working can positively impact physical, mental and financial well-being. That said, working from home has proven effective for many people, but crucially not for all. It’s often the case that people find themselves working longer hours and taking less sick leave, under pressure to be seen as super productive when working remotely. Employers should look for ways to tackle the ‘always-on’ ethos and habits that have crept into remote working culture. Focusing on creating a culture that supports flexible working as standard can benefit teams and improve productivity if handled intentionally.”

Lizzie Benton, Company Culture Coach & Founder at Liberty Mind, added: “As a business, your attitudes, behaviour, and beliefs will all ultimately present to people what you truly think about employee well-being. If people are feeling unseen and pressured to work through illness, that’s really not a good sign. Now is not the time to ignore your culture and the true ripple effect it has on your people. After two years of momentous life changes, employees across the UK are considering whether where they work is adding to their life or taking something away. That’s why it’s important to put your people first when making decisions that impact them both personally and professionally. Creating a positive healthy company culture is ongoing work and it’s a choice that will benefit your business in the long run.”

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