Man fatigued at work

Blue Monday: Unhappy employees experience two weeks a year of presenteeism

Unhappy employees, on average, spend 9 days working a year even though they are unwell and unable to perform effectively. Research from WPI Economics, commissioned by leading employee benefits provider Unum UK, has revealed that almost two working weeks are lost each year due to presenteeism.

The survey of over 4,000 employees across the UK found that those who are happy at work reported less than four days of presenteeism per year — more than halving the number of days their unhappy counterparts experienced. Moreover, just 13% of unhappy staff think they are very productive at work. According to modelling by WPI Economics, these unhappy, unproductive workers cost the economy £11 billion per year in lost productivity.

Blue Monday is often touted as the unhappiest day of the year due to a mixture of deflation after the festive period, New Year’s resolutions fallen by the wayside, empty bank accounts and relentless January gloom. Yet going into Blue Monday 2024 the outlook is particularly bleak, with:

  • Half of employees (50%) saying they do not have good physical wellbeing;
  • Half of employees (48%) saying they do not have good mental wellbeing; and
  • Two-thirds of employees (66%) saying they do not have good financial wellbeing.

With almost three in five employees (58%, equivalent to 16.4 million people) saying they would take less time off work and/or be more productive if their employer enhanced the health and wellbeing services available to them, there is a huge opportunity for employers to improve workplace productivity by proactively supporting the wellbeing needs of their workforces.

The research suggests that action to boost access to services to improve health and wellbeing at work and halve the number of employees who are not happy at work could see companies collectively benefit by £6.4 billion a year through reduced lost output from sickness absence and presenteeism, and by £7.3 billion from increased productivity.

Jane Hulme, HR Director at Unum UK commented:

“Deemed the most unhappy day of the year, it is highly likely that employers of all sizes will witness an element of presenteeism today. 80% of workers say that they are more productive when they are healthy and happy, so what can employers do to ensure they’re setting their workforce up for a happy, healthy and productive 2024? Spotting the signs of a struggling employee and intervening early remains the best way to prevent presenteeism, which can potentially lead to absenteeism.

“Whether managers see their employees every working day or not, it can be difficult to identify emerging concerns and act quickly to offer support, so a strong mental health and wellbeing policy is a must. Encourage open conversations about wellbeing, mental health and provide information about the support available. It’s also important to routinely monitor and understand any current health concerns employees have by reviewing available information such as absence trends, data from EAPs and take up of employee benefits.

“For businesses that can afford it in today’s financial climate, an investment in people through the provision of good quality employee benefits could be what workers need to banish both presenteeism and the January blues.”

Original quantitative research of UK employees was conducted by global research company Censuswide and was undertaken between 20th and 21st September 2023. In total, 4,035 UK employees (aged 16-69) were surveyed online, and results have been weighted to be nationally representative.

The full report can be downloaded here

Methodology for £11bn figure: Based on the Censuswide research, WPI Economics estimated the number of employees in each nation, region and sector of the UK economy who report to be unhappy at work and the number of hours of lost productivity that they report on average. This was then combined with estimates of output per job filled in each region to calculate the total loss of output related to poor productivity amongst unhappy employees. A scenario was then modelled that reduced the rate of poor productivity amongst the unhappy-at-work population to the level of poor productivity amongst the happy-at-work population. The differential between this and the overall productivity loss provides an estimate of the productivity penalty amongst unhappy employees, compared to their happy counterparts.