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Staff can’t afford to take sick leave

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More female workers reported working through illness than men

In the face of rising inflation and cost-of-living, employees shouldn’t have to choose between their health and money in the bank. Organisations should be fostering a culture that allows for individuals who are unwell to stay home, and pay them for it. Employee wellbeing shouldn’t only be about a healthy office culture, it should be about healthy workers too. Doing this will support talent retention and attraction in a skills-scare market.

A recent survey conducted by CIPHR, which collected responses from over 2,000 employees across various industries, discovered that the fear of losing wages has compelled two-thirds (64%) of those with in-person roles to attend work even when they were unwell, compared to nearly two-fifths of remote and hybrid workers (38% and 38% respectively), who faced the same financial predicament.

In-person female workers seem to be more likely than their male counterparts to report having worked through illness in the last six months (68% of surveyed women compared to 58% of surveyed men).

Meanwhile, individuals employed in the retail and hospitality sectors statistically exhibit the highest tendency to go to work when unwell due to financial constraints. Approximately four in five employees in these two industries (81% and 78% respectively) admit to working despite being ill.

One of the primary factors contributing to this predicament is the prevalence of inadequate sick leave policies among companies. According to the survey, a significant number of employees reported having limited or no paid sick leave benefits.

This creates a situation where individuals are compelled to choose between their financial stability and their health, often resulting in them continuing to work despite their illness.

Another contributing factor is the persistence of a presenteeism culture that is deeply entrenched in many workplaces. In certain company cultures, the perception that taking time off for illness is a sign of weakness or lack of commitment still persists.

This can foster a work environment that discourages employees from prioritising their well-being, leading to a cycle of increased stress, decreased productivity, and potential long-term health issues.

Undoubtedly, this situation is potentially devastating for staff members who may be experiencing financial difficulties. However, it is also a significant issue for employers. Aside from the moral and legal duty of care towards employees, it should be apparent that quality work cannot be achieved when a worker is unwell.

Moreover, if employees persist in working through their illnesses, it may result in more serious long-term health issues such as burnout or physical consequences due to exhaustion.

The potential spread of illnesses within the workplace is also a significant factor contributing to more sick individuals and further disruption for everyone involved, ultimately leading to issues with team dynamics and employee morale.

Ultimately, implementing robust sick leave policies that include paid time off and flexibility for illness-related absences can help alleviate the financial burden placed on employees and save organisations much more in the long run than promoting presenteeism.


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