Eighty per cent of success is just showing up, Woody Allen famously said. However, a big chunk of that requires people to be in a fit state when they do.

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Whilst levels of absenteeism have declined in recent years, presenteeism is a persistent problem, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD). Their latest annual Absence Management survey shows that one-third of companies have reported an increase in the number of people coming into work sick over the past 12 months.

Unfortunately, the results for businesses may be even worse than when workers stay at home, the study recognised: “People coming to work ill is not good for the individual or for their employer and needs to be recognised and tackled.†

Presenteeism can be linked to stress, discontent, job insecurity and the exacerbation of existing health problems. It is also unsustainable. Working whilst unwell eventually tends to lead to absences, which are also often longer as a result.

The CIPD also found that organisations reporting an increase in presenteeism were nearly twice as likely as others to report increased stress-related absences and mental health problems. Legal & General’s own data shows that acute conditions such as anxiety and depression, neurological issues and cancer account for the majority of long-term absences from work.

DIAGNOSING THE DISORDER

The causes of presenteeism vary. Workloads, manager expectations and job insecurity all contribute. Strategies to try to reduce absenteeism may also, ironically, be contributing to the problem: a recent University of East Anglia study of employees from 34 countries showed policies to reduce absence, such as strict trigger points for disciplinary action, limited paid sick leave, or demands for medical certificates to support short-term absence actually increased presenteeism.

However, this issue is complicated by the fact that working whilst unwell is not always a bad thing. Most employers rightly expect their staff to attend work when it is important for them to do so and if the illness is mild, for example. Ultimately, it is a balancing act, but there is a potential solution for employers dealing with this issue: group income protection (GIP), which remains significantly under-used by UK businesses.

PREVENTION BETTER THAN CURE

On the one hand, GIP covers the long-term absences that often result from presenteeism, paying a monthly income for insured employees who are absent from work due to a long-term illness or injury. As such, it’s well placed to respond to the illnesses that presenteeism can lead to.

The key benefit of this kind of insurance, though, is the early intervention and funding for recommended treatments provided by the best GIP propositions, as this proactive approach helps to reduce the length of absences when they occur, or even prevent them to begin with.

The impacts of this approach can be significant. Our experience shows that absences are 30% shorter when we are notified at week six, compared to notification at week 26. In fact, three-quarters of the absence notifications that we receive are able to return to work before they become a claim.

GIP can also help prevent long-term absences from developing in the first place. The policies often include an Employee Assistance Programme, ours offers free phone and online access to professional support on a variety of topics including medical and legal matters plus, where appropriate, face-to-face counselling.

Perhaps most significantly, our recent wellbeing research, which surveyed 2,000 employees, shows that staff would prize the reassurance that group income protection brings. Our survey revealed that 93% of staff would like their employers to offer GIP, and they also put a very high value on it: on average they estimate that group income protection would cost their employer 4.7% of the payroll bill. In fact, it typically costs less than a third of this on average: about 1-1.5% of payroll.

Given the cost of absenteeism and the negative impact of forcing sick employees to attend work when sick, few would deny the value of such a strategic investment.

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