Are Brits all unhappy presenteeists?

UK workers take less sick leave than any of their European neighbours - no wonder they loathe being at work.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 06 Sep 2016

Ping. And an eye-catching headline. ‘British workers miss fewer days at work than rest of Europe.’ Great news as we put our best foot forward into the new world of Brexit: they may close their markets to us but those other Europeans are terrible shirkers.

The research, from consultancy Ayming, has revealed that UK workers missed fewer days at work last year than anywhere else in Europe, with 84% of workers in the UK at work every day. That compared to 72% in the rest of Europe, and just 71% in France. In France they are clearly all too busy locking up their managers in factories or protesting out on the streets. (The stats are perhaps unsurprising, given that new research from Vouchercloud shows Brits receive some of the lowest levels of sick pay in Europe).

The breakdown by gender suggests the proportion of women in the UK who were at work every day was 88% surpassing that of men (83%). Employees aged 26-30 had the lowest attendance record – only 71% missed no days at work – while employees aged 51-62 had a near perfect attendance record of 92%. We will avoid ageist stereotyping but such stats won’t be news to those battle-hardened folk who work in HR departments.

However there are several caveats to this. The Brits may all have their noses pressed to the grindstone a la Sports Direct but that still doesn’t make them hugely productive during the time they are at work. If people are just there because they have to be it doesn’t mean quality stuff gets done.

The other fly in the ointment is that this dutiful attendance it isn’t leaving them very content. Despite the fact that UK workers took less time off work than any other country in Europe, British workers had the smallest proportion of both happy and motivated employees, at just 23%. In contrast, 46% of German employees and 54% of Dutch employees regarded themselves as both happy and motivated.

In addition, at 42%, British workers were the least engaged with the future of the business they work for, with employee engagement an increasing concern for UK-based businesses.

One has to be careful with figures as alarming as this. To say definitively that Brits are half as engaged, happy and motivated as Germans is quite a claim. The sample size was 3,000 employees in the private sector across the 7 countries studied – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Engagement is a complex issue because different people want different things from work. Some will care deeply about the social connections formed in the workplace. Others want to make as much money with as little commitment as possible. Some have an appetite for risk. Others crave the steadiness of a well-structured, long-term climb up the career ladder. Engagement varies considerably according to age and career development. People change.

Engagement first came into the business lexicon a decade and a half ago and MT has considered it on a frequent basis since. Forget engagement, it’s all about ‘flourishing’, says Jane Rolfe. Employee engagement is ‘the enthusiastic pig’, writes Nigel Nicholson.

In the meantime, it’s interesting that this survey comes at the end of the G20 summit where leaders have been urged to ‘civilise capitalism.’ One G20 official, quoted in the FT, said there was a high ‘degree of awareness’ among heads of government that globalisation could be thrown into reverse.

A civilised workplace and engagement levels are highly likely to be interconnected. ‘It has taken the rise of populists across the world for them to realise this,’ the FT source said. ‘If we do not address the issue of fairness, [it] could endanger the global economy.’ Another person involved in the discussions said that ‘it was a summit where leaders have been talking a lot more about people and less about economics.


Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Upcoming Events