The Dangers of Presenteeism: When It’s Better Not To Go To In


Presenteeism is an often unrecognized danger for employers. The term ‘absenteeism’ is one we’re all familiar with and requires little explanation. Simply put, people sometimes fail to come into work, often for valid medical reasons. We rarely hear much about presenteeism, however, which is defined as the practice of attending work through illness, injury, or other impairment, often with negative results. (Click here for a detailed set of criteria.)

Presenteeism is divided into impairment and motivational varieties. Impairment presenteeism relates to health: the employee feels unable to function properly and comes into work regardless. Motivational presenteeism, on the other hand, involves a level of disengagement from work so significant that the employee’s ability to perform tasks is compromised.

Unlike absenteeism, the reduction of which is a constant focus for employers, presenteeism is often neglected in a business’s planning and creation of employee policy. Through various means, both positive and negative, employers frequently seek to minimize losses incurred due to non-attendance. But in light of the fact that presenteeism costs ten times more than absenteeism – a staggering $150 billion per year – it’s pretty clear that the former calls for more serious attention on the part of employers.

Consider that workers see themselves as unproductive for 57.5 days each year – it’s clear that the cost of presenteeism is not being dealt with. According to Dr. David Batman, chief medical officer for GCC, it’s high time that employers began to focus on the far more costly phenomenon of presenteeism.

What Causes Presenteeism?

People drag themselves into work in an unfit state for all sorts of reasons, chief among them unreasonably harsh attendance policies. A competitive job market, increasing financial responsibility, excessive expectations on the part of employers, lack of access to paid sick leave – these are just a few of the many pressures pushing down upon the average employee. Depression and an individual’s perception of their own health have also been related to presenteeism. It’s little wonder that people feel the need to show their faces regardless of their state of health.

To Attend Or Not To Attend?

How should you go about deciding whether or not to fight through your headache, knock back the painkillers, and fight your way onto the bus? Should you be one of the 72% that go to work sick? Obviously, the first thing to consider is whether you can actually be effective. The answer is generally that you can’t be, but of course we often think ourselves capable of fighting through the pain (as mentioned above, an individual’s self-perception in matters relating to health is a huge part of presenteeism).

But there is another question to ask yourself: Will I make those around me ill? Especially in flu season, the issue of contagiousness has to be considered. Believe it or not, your coworkers might appreciate a sneeze-free cubicle and an atmosphere unpunctuated by violent coughing. More practically, making others sick can’t be good for your business.

And by coming in when sick you expose yourself due to the lowered immunity that is a consequence of your illness. The last thing you need is to get so ill that coming into work becomes a complete impossibility.

Employers And The Dangers Of Presenteeism

How should an employer tackle presenteeism? Since absenteeism is far easier to identify than presenteeism, and since the costs of presenteeism are so great, employers are faced with a serious task.

One way of dealing with the issue is to improve the state of your company’s health program. By identifying long-standing medical conditions, particularly depression, you can put yourself in a position to ameliorate the problems that are causing your employees to miss time.

Perhaps better still, instituting a helpful, reasonable program of paid sick leave and keeping the tasks of each employee reasonable can help reduce the pressure on workers. Employees who feel comfortable taking days off when necessary return fresh and more productive, keep their illnesses from spreading and working at maximum capacity when they are present.

In short, allow for paid sick, reduce pressure, and manage time – the results will speak for themselves. Presenteeism is a neglected danger for the modern business. Reduce its impact and you can separate yourself from the pack.

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