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Fit for work? The influence of sick pay and job flexibility on sickness absence and implications for presenteeism

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Publication details

JournalSocial Policy and Administration
DatePublished - Dec 2011
Issue number7
Number of pages18
Pages (from-to)752-769
Original languageEnglish


Recent developments in UK policy on health and employment have sought to change perceptions about what constitutes 'fitness for work'. With the aim of reducing the incidence and duration of sickness absence, a range of initiatives, including the introduction of the 'fit note', are challenging the belief that it is necessary to be 100 per cent well in order to be at work. However, this article suggests that contextual factors independent of health may also influence people's decisions about whether or not to attend work at times of reduced wellness. Drawing upon data from a qualitative study of mental health and employment, this article illustrates how the terms and conditions of a person's employment may influence sickness absence decisions in a number of ways. It is argued that sick pay provisions, size of employer and nature of work may influence both decisions to take time off and decisions about when to return to work. The degree of flexibility to manage one's workload around times of poorer health may also have a bearing on whether people feel able to carry on with their work without recourse to sickness absence. Therefore, it may be important for policy interventions to consider not only health circumstances but also structural/contextual influences on conceptualizations of being 'fit for work'. The implications of such contextually-influenced decision-making for 'presenteeism' are also considered. It is suggested that current conceptualizations of presenteeism are somewhat ambiguous, employees coming to work despite ill health is simultaneously presented as a problem and an aspiration.

    Research areas

  • employment/benefits, social exclusion, income, poverty


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