Half of UK employees continue to work while on sick leave

Almost half of UK workers (49%) who have taken sick leave in the last 12 months have continued to work when unwell, according to new research by Bupa.1

The findings, released today, reveal that nearly half (49%) of workers who have taken sick leave in the last 12 months have continued to work in some way. Around a third have read (32%) and responded (28%) to work emails. A quarter (25%) have taken work-related telephone calls and one in five (19%) has gone a step further and worked online, while 15 percent have conducted background research or reading. A worrying 2 percent have even hosted meetings from their sick bed.

Dr Natalie-Jane Macdonald, managing director of Bupa Health and Wellbeing stressed: "Employers should be concerned about the number of people who continue to work when they are unwell, as this could lead to prolonged periods of absence due to a lack of
time for recovery. With the number of workers with long term conditions set to rise, there is an urgent need for employers to invest in supporting employee health and wellbeing to help them manage their conditions effectively."

The research also demonstrates that 67 percent of people continue to go into work when they are unwell. Of those, 9 out of 10 admit to being less productive than normal and 44% say they operate at half or less than their normal productivity levels.

It is evident that employees are committed to their working lives but seemingly this isn't matched by employer commitment to workplace health. Sickness absence already costs UK businesses nearly £17 billion per year.2 In the face of rising business costs and the lasting effects of a global recession, a healthy workforce is vital if the UK is to compete successfully in an increasingly competitive global economy. The research indicates that over half of all workers (56%) expect their employers to invest in their health and wellbeing. Despite this, only 16 percent of employees say their company has invested money in the health and wellbeing of the total workforce.

While some organisations are taking steps towards actively promoting a healthy lifestyle for their employees, very few offer a range of healthcare initiatives that will effectively support the health of their workforce. Only 12 percent of organisations provide advice and education about health issues to employees, 9 percent carry out employee health surveys, 6 percent allow time for people to exercise during the day and 15 percent offer private health insurance to all employees.

Bupa believes that more needs to be done to ensure healthy work initiatives are central to an organisation's culture and advises employers of all sizes to take the following simple steps:

Understand the health profile of the workforce and involve employees: The more an employer understands the health of their employees, the better placed they are to identify the initiatives most suited to their needs. Health risk appraisals and health assessments can help employers identify trends or health hotspots within the organisation.

  • Ensure senior management buy-in: Employees need to feel that senior managers believe in a healthy workplace.
  • Ensure clear objectives are in place: Employers need to be clear about their health and wellbeing objectives so that they can put the most appropriate initiatives in place.
  • Find innovative ways to involve employees: Employee involvement is key for any initiative to be effective. Employers can involve employees by setting up working groups, distributing posters and newsletters, involving a trade union, setting up focus groups and carrying out surveys.
  • Measure results: In order to measure the return on investment, employers should track levels of sickness absence, productivity and employee satisfaction, ill-health and wellbeing prior to and following the introduction of workplace health initiatives.
  • Continually improve: Employers should ensure they check how well an initiative is working at various stages so that they can continually refine and improve it.

To find out how Bupa can help your company stay healthy, call 0800 600 500 or visit www.bupa.co.uk/business.


Notes to Editors

1 Research conducted by ICM Research in June 2010 amongst 1,120 working UK adults, aged 18+
2 Confederation of British Industry (2010), On the path to recovery: Absence and workplace health survey

About Us

Bupa’s purpose is longer, healthier, happier lives.

As a leading global health and care company, we offer health insurance, medical subscription and other health and care funding products; we run care homes, retirement and care villages, primary care, diagnostic and wellness centres, hospitals and dental clinics. We also provide workplace health services, home healthcare, health assessments and long-term condition management services.

We have 29m customers in 190 countries. With no shareholders, we reinvest our profits to provide more and better healthcare and fulfil our purpose.

We employ almost 80,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, Spain, Poland, New Zealand and Chile, as well as Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, India, Thailand and the USA.

For more information, visit bupa.com.

Back to top