Sickness absence management: encouraging attendance or 'risk-taking' presenteeism in employees with chronic illness?

Purpose: To investigate the organisational perspectives on the effectiveness of their attendance management policies for chronically ill employees. Methods: A mixed-method approach was employed involving questionnaire survey with employees and in-depth interviews with key stakeholders of the organisational policies. Results: Participants reported that attendance management polices and the point at which systems were triggered, posed problems for employees managing chronic illness. These systems presented risk to health: employees were more likely to turn up for work despite feeling unwell (presenteeism) to avoid a disciplinary situation but absence-related support was only provided once illness progressed to long-term sick leave. Attendance management polices also raised ethical concerns for ‘forced’ illness disclosure and immense pressures on line managers to manage attendance. Conclusions: Participants felt their current attendance management polices were unfavourable toward those managing a chronic illness. The policies heavily focused on attendance despite illness and on providing return to work support following long-term sick leave. Drawing on the results, the authors conclude that attendance management should promote job retention rather than merely prevent absence per se. They outline areas of improvement in the attendance management of employees with chronic illness.