24 Jan 2023

Financial worries are pushing unwell employees back to work

The recent Bank of England[i] rise in interest rates from 3% to 3.5% is adding to the financial woes of people who are already struggling with the cost of living and high energy bills.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation[ii] has predicted that higher monthly home loan costs could pull another 400,000 people into poverty in the coming year as they struggle to afford more expensive mortgage rates. They say this could impact the rental market too.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics[iii] also say 92% of adults in the UK reported their cost of living had increased compared with a year ago.

These financial worries are leading to more people working when physically and mentally unwell.

According to a recent study by GoodShape,[iv] over half (52%) of UK employees are worried about the financial implications of taking time off work for a physical or mental illness.

The sectors where people are most worried about taking time off work include hospitality and leisure, medical and health services and retail.

Also a recent study conducted by the Enterprise Research Centre (ERC) based at Warwick Business School, has shown that the incidence of ‘presenteeism’ – employees working whilst they are unwell – increased in 2022. Workplace absences due to mental health sickness have also increased.

Addressing both presenteeism and absenteeism will be important for employers in 2023 as the impact of the cost of living continues. If not, such issues could spiral out of control leading to employees having to take long-term sick leave in the worst cases.

Bosses need to consider ways to support people who may be struggling with illness because of work stress, overwork or financial worries. They also need to review their working culture if people feel unable to take time off when they are sick.

Understanding the root causes of what’s causing both absenteeism and presenteeism is key. One way to do this is by ensuring they have a robust absence management system that tracks all absences, rather than relying on spreadsheets and emails.

This enables managers to track behaviour and see patterns across the workforce that could indicate someone is struggling. Systems such as Activ Absence help companies manage their workforce absence efficiently, quickly, and smartly.

The system allows managers to set up automated trigger points alerting them when specific criteria are met within the system. For instance, if someone is taking a lot of time off or regularly off on a Monday, or at the other end of the scale failing to take any annual leave.

This enables managers to have a conversation with the employee either during the return to work interview that the system prompts after someone has been off sick or by taking them aside if they appear not to be taking any leave.

By having these alerts managers can speak to an employee to find out what is going on and if they are worried about anything. They can then offer tailored support if needed, which may include signposting them to mental health services or providing financial education.

Without such a system managers can often be left in the dark or not spots signs that someone is struggling early enough.

As the cost of living crisis is set to get worse in 2023, having the right tools in place that make managing the workforce easier, quicker, and in real-time can be a true asset.

It can help ensure the workforce is happy, healthy, and motivated, boosting productivity and retention.

For more information on Activ People HR click here.

[i] https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/knowledgebank/why-are-interest-rates-in-the-uk-going-up

[ii] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/nov/04/higher-mortgage-costs-poverty-analysis-bank-of-england-base-rate

[iii] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/bulletins/publicopinionsandsocialtrendsgreatbritain/latest#main-points

[iv] https://hrnews.co.uk/financial-worries-forcing-people-into-work-whilst-unwell/