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Redundancy fears causing increase in presenteeism during lockdown

  • Nearly half (46%) of working UK employees feel more pressure to be ‘present’ during lockdown
  • More than a third have therefore continued to work while feeling unwell - for 16%, this is driven by redundancy fears
  • Lockdown is changing people’s working patterns; 25% now start work earlier and 24% are juggling their hours around childcare and homeschooling

Lockdown is starting to take its toll on UK employees, as new research from Canada Life today reveals that nearly half (46%) of those who are now working from home, feel more pressure to be present, and 16% are working through sickness because of redundancy fears.1

With coronavirus expected to push unemployment levels up to 10% in Q2,2 Canada Life polled working UK employees and employers to understand how presenteeism in the workplace has changed during lockdown. The findings reveal that this trend is showing no signs of abating, as more than one in three (35%) have continued to work while unwell during lockdown. This is affecting younger – likely junior – staff more, with 41% of 26-34 year-olds working while they’re sick and 33% of 18-25 year-olds doing so, compared to just 20% for the over-55s.

However, on the flipside, 21% have ‘pulled a sickie’ during lockdown when they’ve felt fine. This is more than twice as common among male employees, with 26% doing so, compared to just 12% of women.

Reasons for continuing to work while ill

Didn't think it was serious enough to warrant a day off


My workload was too great


Didn’t want to hand over important work to colleagues


Worried about the financial implications


Other colleagues/senior members of staff make me feel guilty about taking time off


I feel too threatened by the risk of redundancy


I don’t feel secure enough in my job


I didn’t think I’d be able to get a doctors’ note



The rise of presenteeism during lockdown

A quarter (24%) of workers admitted they feel the need to prove that they were working every day, 22% are checking in with their colleagues or managers more often, and one in five (21%) are checking their emails more regularly outside of working hours. Nearly a fifth (18%) have been working longer hours, 15% are taking fewer breaks during the day, and over one in 10 (12%) are taking no breaks at all. Further to this, a quarter of employees are starting work earlier; 24% are juggling their hours around childcare, and more than one in five (22%) are finding working from home more stressful than being in the physical office.

Employers are feeling it too

Presenteeism extends to SME decision makers too, with 41% feeling more pressure to be present and available for employees during lockdown. And, although 28% think their company had an issue with presenteeism before the coronavirus pandemic, 21% feel like it is worse since everyone has been working from home. Encouragingly, 41% of employers have introduced measures to support workers struggling with presenteeism and 25% are actively encouraging them not to work if they’re feeling under the weather.

Paul Avis, Canada Life group insurance marketing director said:

“The ‘always on’ work culture we’ve adopted over the last decade has come to a head; lockdown is making it worse and employees feel like they can’t switch off. As the physical and mental wellbeing of UK employees is stretched to the limit, productivity could be significantly hit. 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.

“Employers have an active role to play in encouraging their staff to take the time they need to recover from illness, mental or physical, and it’s encouraging that 41% have introduced measures to support struggling workers. Remember group protection policies come with a range of support services, too.

“We recently launched ‘WeCare’, an extensive virtual support service covering physical health, mental health and wellbeing support, which is free for employees who have access to a Canada Life group protection policy through CLASS.3 It’s through services like this that we’re able to catch illness early, prevent conditions from worsening, and enable employees to return to work when it is safe for them to do so, while reinforcing the message that employers are serious about the wellbeing of their staff.”