Kiwis continue to turn up sick to work

Monday , 31 August 2015 by Aimee Bourke

Despite a culture change where businesses encourage unwell workers to stay home, over a third of Kiwis’ continue to turn up sick to work.

This has been revealed in the second Wellness in the Workplace study which showed that while there has been an improvement - attendance from unwell workers has gone down from 49% in 2012 to 35% in 2014 - Kiwis continue to come to work sick.

Wellness in the Workplace is a joint study undertaken by the country’s largest health insurer Southern Cross Health Society and New Zealand’s largest advocacy group for enterprise BusinessNZ.

Phil O’Reilly, BusinessNZ Chief Executive, says the survey is the most comprehensive assessment of where New Zealand stands in regards to absenteeism, sickness, stress and cost related practices in the workplace.

The nationwide study of 113 employers (encompassing 116,000 employees) was carried out between March – June 2015 with the aim of benchmarking workplace trends.

The survey showed the below top 5 reasons for absenteeism:

Non-manual employees   Manual employees
 1. Non work-related illness  1. Non work-related illness
 2. Caring for a family member or other dependant  2. Caring for a family member or other dependant
 3. Non work-related injury  3. Paid sickness absence days seen as an entitlement by those suspected to not be sick
 4. Attending/waiting for medical appointments  4. Non work-related injury
 5. Paid sickness absence days seen as an entitlement by those suspected to not be sick  5. Work-related injury


“The survey showed the percentage of ill staff who should have stayed at home but turned up for work dropped in 2014, following a culture shift of more enterprises encouraging unwell employees to stay home when unwell.

“While these are positive steps for staff wellbeing there is still a disconnect between culture and reality as over a third of workers show up to work sick,” says O’Reilly.

Southern Cross Health Society Chief Executive Peter Tynan says part of that will be down to New Zealand’s high number of SMEs. In a small business a staff member being absent is much more acutely felt than in a large organisation. There may be an element of guilt which is causing unwell workers to feel like they need to come in.

“Prevention’s better that cure. The best way to combat illness is for employers to look at initiatives like wellness policies, free flu jabs, health checks, having more flexible hours or the option to work from home as ways of keeping staff healthy and engaged.”

“Businesses need to have a more up-front policy, so staff know what is standard practice and expected of them when they’re unwell. There is no point sick staff coming into work as they then spread bugs around the rest of the workforce and often take longer to get better themselves.

The full Wellness in the Workplace 2015 survey can be found at Wellness in the Workplace Survey Report 2015