UK workers take fewer sick days than most other countries – but is this a good thing? On the surface it may seem like employees are healthy, hardy and committed, but presenteeism can lead to disease spreading around the office, and people slowly burning out.

It may sound controversial, but encouraging people to take MORE time off due to illness could actually help companies to improve employee performance. Phoning in sick doesn’t have to put the cat among the productivity pigeons; so long as there’s an effective system in place for centrally managing staff absences.

Sickness and the COVID culture change

Despite health concerns being high on the agenda in 2020, UK professionals took just 5.8 days off sick on average – the tenth consecutive year that absences have declined. Working from home may have allowed more people to ‘power through’, but the general trend towards fewer days off could also indicate a dangerous culture of presenteeism.

Many employees show up to work despite feeling under the weather. In the old, pre-COVID world this meant coming to the office with a heavy cold or while recovering from a sick bug. But without proper time to recover, germs can easily be passed from person to person – so one colleague’s sniffles suddenly take down a whole department.

The coronavirus pandemic highlighted how easily disease spreads when we come into close contact with other people. And the fact we spent most of the winter months isolating at home, washing our hands more and wearing masks meant cold and influenza levels were much lower than normal.

Could this be demonstrating that we’re ready for a culture change, where it’s OK for hard working employees to take time off sick?

Putting a stop to presenteeism

In order to destroy our preference for presenteeism, employers need to reassure team members of two things:

1 - you won't get penalised for phoning in sick
2 - we can manage your workload, so you don’t
come back to complete chaos

Regarding the first part, the UK has one of the lowest sick pay rates in Europe. According to Vouchercloud research, the average Briton receives 9% of their typical week’s salary while absent due to illness. Meanwhile, European counterparts receive 65%.

In addition to worrying about the financial impact of taking time off, employees fear that illness will make them seem less dedicated to their job. And in the current, unstable market, they may fear that sick leaves makes them more vulnerable to redundancy.

Employers need to reassure your workforce that falling ill doesn’t make you bad at your job, and that a few days off will boost performance in the long-term. It’s particularly important to encourage rest and recouperation if a staff member is working physically alongside colleagues, as infectious conditions can spread quickly in a close contact environment.

A rapid response to unplanned absence

Even if a company has a good sick leave policy, people fear the consequences of taking time off. Many businesses find it difficult to reschedule or reallocated work at short notice, meaning employees are left playing catch up after an unplanned absence.

In this scenario, staff management technology can be a real gamechanger, as it makes it easy to see who’s available to step in when someone falls ill.

By logging employee shift patterns through a central online system, your business can immediately respond to staff absences. Can that person’s role be covered by other team members, or will you have to arrange some emergency cover? If it’s the latter, a good shift planning platform will help you fill gaps by pushing open shift opportunity notifications out to the wider workforce.

For an even more effective response, look for a shift planning solution with a built-in task management feature. This will allow you to see exactly what someone was due to do that day, and identify on-duty colleagues with the right seniority, skills and qualifications to take over those jobs.

Stop illness from draining your team’s productivity

Nobody likes falling ill. But we’re only human, and sometimes people need to take a day off for their personal wellbeing. Creating an environment where it’s OK for professionals to switch off and rest up can stop them feeling the need to be present at work – turning a couple of days’ illness into a long-term productivity drain.

While last-minute absences are a minor inconvenience, businesses with the right shift planning and task management software in place can quickly rearrange plans to cover staffing gaps. And this will ultimately help team members bounce back, as they know essential tasks are being taken care of in their absence, rather than stacking up for their return.

Run your business better with shift planning software from WhosOffice

Our people management platform empowers companies to set staff schedules, log every type of absence from holiday to sickness, assign tasks and fill staffing gaps. It’s got all the online tools you need to work productively – even when you’re thrown a curveball.

Try WhosOffice now with a free, no obligation trial.

Overview of WhosOffice


Try WhosOffice for free before you sign up – no credit card required


We offer telephone and email support to our customers, at no extra cost


Cancel when you like with just 30 days’ notice


We don’t believe in add-on charges or set-up fees

Book your Free WhosOffice Trial

Photo by Pixabay of