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18 Jan 2012, David Woods, HRO

The study of 1,600 employees found 30% of staff are now more inclined to go to work sick as a result of the current economic climate.

Half of those choosing to turn up for duty while sick said the most important factor in their decision was job security.

Overall, nearly three-quarters (72%) of those surveyed went into work last year while sick.

And more than half (53%) of those questioned went into work in the past year with a contagious illness, such as the flu or a cold.

The age group most likely to go into work sick are those aged between 16 and 24 – 85% said they went into work sick last year and nearly half (48%) said they were more likely to go into work sick because of the economic downturn.

The income group most likely to go into work sick because of the recession is those earning below £20,000, followed by those earning between £21,000 and £30,000 and those earning between £31,000 and £50,000.

Marcus Powell, MD Nuffield Health, Corporate Wellbeing, said: “Employees going into work sick costs business dearly – up to £15 billion a year. Our research shows the economic downturn has made people more likely to go into work sick often because they fear losing their job.

“This is bad for business. At Nuffield Health, we work with more than 1,000 corporate clients to help them maintain a healthy workforce.

“The corporate world knows that staff wellbeing directly affects their profits. That is why more and more businesses are providing good clinical and fitness experts for their workers.”

Andy Jones, medical director at Nuffield Health, added: “Effective health and wellbeing is about helping people to make the choices to stay physically and mentally fit.

“Presenteeism means those who are ill go into work sick, possibly infecting others. Any doctor would advise workers to stay at home and rest if they are unwell.”

The survey asked 1,600 UK workers what the most important factors were in deciding to go into work sick. The most important factor overall among those surveyed was too much work; second, job security; and third, workplace culture.

Women were slightly more likely than men to go into work because of the economic recession (33% compared to 27%).

Those sectors feeling the most pressure to go into work sick are the retail industry, followed by manufacturing, then education.

Some 21% said they were exercising less since the start of the economic downturn.

Research from Aston University (2010) revealed the cost of presenteeism to be £15 billion annually. This is estimated at twice the cost of absenteeism, according to the Economic and Social Research Council.

In a report last year by the CIPD, presenteeism was shown to worsen stress levels, negatively affect productivity by transfer of illness and the sick being unable to work effectively.