People are increasingly going to work when they are ill, highlighting a culture of "presenteeism" rather than staff pulling sickies, research has revealed.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said a fall in absence levels from just under eight days a year to less than seven coincided with a third of employers reporting a rise in the number of staff going to work ill.
The threat of redundancies and worries over job security were fuelling presenteeism, with the problem likely to get worse in organisations expected to make redundancies in the coming month, said the report.
A study of almost 700 employers also found that stress-related absence and mental health problems were increasing.
Firms were urged to tackle concerns of their staff because of the suggested link between presenteeism and stress and mental health problems.
Dr Jill Miller, research adviser at CIPD, said: "On the face of it, the findings from this year's survey present some positive news, but we must air caution before celebrating lower absence levels because they may be masking deeper problems in the workplace.
"This year sees a continued increase in presenteeism which can have a damaging effect on organisations' productivity. Not only can illnesses be passed on to other colleagues, but ill employees are likely to work less effectively than usual, may be more prone to making costly mistakes and take longer to recover from their illnesses.
"Continuing economic uncertainty and fears over job security appears to be taking its toll on employees. We are seeing employees struggling into work to demonstrate their commitment, suggesting presenteeism can be a sign of anxiety.
"Failing to address employees' concerns is likely to confound the issue, impact on morale and commitment and may cause or exacerbate stress or mental health problems.
"We urge employers to examine whether lower absence levels within their own organisations are as a result of more effective absence management or if they reflect the negative impact of presenteeism. Overall a proactive approach to supporting employee wellbeing and managing absence, which includes training managers in how to manage people effectively and early access to occupational health services, remains critical for success."
Helen Dickinson, of healthcare firm Simplyhealth which helped with the study, said: "The link between presenteeism and job insecurity is unsurprising. Increasing workloads coupled with worries about job security and financial challenges could be a contributory factor to stress and mental health issues being highlighted as two of the most common causes of long term absence in the workplace."
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