UK workers feel unsupported and judged for taking time off due to illness


More than half (51%) of UK workers have admitted to experiencing a culture of negative judgement around sickness absence, according to research by Willis Towers Watson.  The study also found that the judgement also extends to the length in which an individual is on sick leave, with 54% of workers feeling they were under pressure to return to work before they had fully recovered from their illness or injury.


“Presenteeism can have a significant impact on performance and employers may leave themselves exposed to greater long-term problems if they do not make adequate provision for illness and injury when it first occurs,” says Mike Blake, director, Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits.


Half of the respondents also feared the negative impact taking time off and the effect this had on their job prospects, this was closely followed by the concern of letting their colleagues down (46%) and worries of returning to an overwhelming workload or missing a deadline (35%).


“Businesses are faced with a fine balancing act. They must do their best to tread the line between managing staff back to work as quickly and efficiently as possible while also ensuring they do not work through health conditions. There is also a clear employee engagement issue here – under the umbrella of a more positive sickness culture, businesses should work to educate employees on appropriate procedures for handling sickness, establish strong communication in cases of absence and ensure staff are aware of the treatment options available to them.” Blake adds.


For those who face long-term absence less than half (47%) of the respondents believed their employer provided adequate specialist support, care and advice to help them adjust upon their return. A third of the workers who had taken off more than four weeks of continuous absence at some point in the last five years claimed they did not receive regular communication or support from their employers while they were sick. 


Blake comments: “Good communication with employees is important if employers are to better understand prevailing health issues, provide appropriate support and make workplace adjustments where necessary. This kind of open dialogue is key to establishing a positive culture around absence.”

“Services should then be put in place to address need and tackle negative trends. Case management is one service that can provide the support to ensure these benefits are used appropriately, coordinating input from different sources and liaising with both employer and employee to develop an effective return to work plan.”