Excess workloads and fear of redundancy driving lockdown presenteeism, study finds

Almost half of Brits working from home feel more pressure to be available and a third have continued with their jobs despite being unwell

UK employees working from home during the coronavirus crisis are facing increased pressure to be available and are less able to switch off from work, a survey has shown, with excess workloads and fear of redundancies driving presenteeism.

Almost half (46 per cent) of Brits carrying out their jobs remotely during lockdown reported feeling more pressure to be ‘present’ for their employer and colleagues, with more than a third (35 per cent) saying they had continued to work despite feeling unwell.

Of those who had worked through illness, 40 per cent said this was because they didn’t feel they were sick enough to warrant a day off. However, more than a quarter (26 per cent) also reported workload as a reason for not taking a day off, and 16 per cent cited fear of redundancy.

Paul Avis, group insurance marketing director at Canada Life, which carried out the research with Opinium, said lockdown had worsened the ‘always on’ culture that had been creeping into UK workplaces over recent years.

“As the physical and mental wellbeing of UK employees is stretched to the limit, productivity could be significantly hit,” he warned. “But with so many people frightened they might lose their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s no surprise they’re working through sickness and worried about the implications of taking time off.”

Avis said employers had an active role to play in encouraging workers to look after their mental and physical health and take time off to recover from illness.

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Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of respondents to the survey, which polled 2,000 working adults with children of school age, said they were juggling their working hours with childcare.

Almost a fifth of respondents (18 per cent) reported working longer hours since lockdown, and 15 per cent said they were taking fewer breaks during the day. Meanwhile, more than one in 10 workers (12 per cent) said they weren’t taking any breaks at all.

Jane van Zyl, CEO of UK charity Working Families, reported similar findings, with nearly half of parents surveyed in her organisation’s 2020 Modern Families Index saying the ability to work from home increased the hours they worked.

“To remedy this, employers need to better manage technology to ensure it supports rather than inhibits work-life balance,” she said. “This could include introducing robust policies around the use of technology to work flexibly, so that parents know they can and should disconnect without penalty, and senior managers role-modelling ‘switching off’.”

The Canada Life research found employers were aware of pre-existing issues with presenteeism. More than a quarter of the 500 SME decision-makers polled said their company had an issue with presenteeism before the coronavirus pandemic, with a fifth (21 per cent) reporting the issue had worsened since staff began working from home under lockdown.

Two-fifths of employers (41 per cent) said they had introduced measures to support workers to switch off, and 25 per cent said they were encouraging staff not to work if unwell.