Presenteeism’ amongst UK higher education staff during and beyond the pandemic

Mitsakis, F. ORCID: 0000-0001-8454-5777, Hadjisolomou, A., Kouki, A. ORCID: 0000-0002-6247-1815 and Kinman, G., 2023. Presenteeism’ amongst UK higher education staff during and beyond the pandemic. In: BSA Work, Employment and Society Conference 2023 - Repositioning Resistance in the Workplace: Reframing Relationality and Risk in Contemporary Work and Employment, Glasgow, Scotland, 12-15 September 2023.

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Presenteeism has been defined by scholarship as an individual’s decision to attend work while being sick (Johns, 2010; Lohaus and Habermann, 2019), whilst recent research on the impact of Covid-19 on the HE sector suggests the top-down pressure on academic and professional staff to work while being unwell (Kinman and Grant, 2020; Hadjisolomou et al., 2021). This relates to Ruhle and Süß’s (2019: 248) identification of an established ‘presentistic culture’ in academia, suggesting that academics are required to make commitments and sacrifices driven by feelings of job insecurity and aspirations for career advancement. The underlying, unitarist, assumption of this type of presenteeism culture is that the individual is loyal to the organisation and is responsible for the organisational goals and success, without job security, decent work or adequate health and safety protection (Bone et al., 2018). This study examines how the shift to flexible working arrangements, intra- and post-pandemic in the UK Higher Education reinforces the already existing, and problematic presenteeism culture in the sector (Ruhle and Schmoll, 2021), exploring this issue across the different types of work existing in the sector, including both academic and professional staff. The paper evaluates the range of personal and work-related factors driving presenteeism decisions and the support, if any, provided by management to staff in relation to their sickness and absence policies to prevent physical and “virtual presenteeism” (Hadjisolomou et al., 2021).

An online survey questionnaire was distributed across the sector and was completed by 332 participants. The questionnaire included a mix of open-ended (text entry) and closed-ended questions to secure both qualitative and quantitative data. Research findings, unsurprisingly, highlight a significant increase of remote working with the outbreak of the pandemic, whilst a variety of flexible working arrangements was introduced to most universities, both for their academic and administrative staff.

As the data shows, 90% of the research participants have reported working under flexible arrangements after the breakout of the pandemic, compared to a respective 44% for the period before. However, such practices were associated with higher rates of “virtual presenteeism” as reported by Hadjisolomou et al. (2021). Alarmingly, although participants have reported their Covid-19 sickness to their line managers, 28% of them suggested that they have continued working while being unwell through flexible working arrangements (e.g., reduced hours or working from home to deliver teaching online, meet research deadlines etc.), thus supporting the established and problematic ‘presentistic culture’ in academia. Only 35% of our respondents (academics & professional staff) suggested that statutory sick leave was offered as an alternative, while 11% reported that no options offered at all, leaving the rest suggesting alternatives such as extra days off (10%), cover to allow recovery (12%), and mental health and wellbeing support (4%). Respectively, professional staff had to work while being unwell either due to lack of replacement or because of the fear of losing their work or being furloughed. Overall, this study argues that as flexible working arrangements are becoming the new working norm in HE post pandemic (Lockee, 2021), presenteeism is worryingly to be established as the new attendance norm in the sector, affecting the well being of both academic and administrative staff (Bali and Liu, 2018).

Item Type: Conference contribution
Creators: Mitsakis, F., Hadjisolomou, A., Kouki, A. and Kinman, G.
Date: September 2023
Divisions: Schools > Nottingham Business School
Record created by: Jonathan Gallacher
Date Added: 12 Sep 2023 06:57
Last Modified: 12 Sep 2023 06:57

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