The Problem of Presenteeism

The Problem with Presenteeism




When you thought you had licked one of your company’s more serious productivity stealer in absenteeism, here comes a surprise substitute – presenteeism!


What Is Presenteeism?

Presenteeism is a situation where employees come to work even when ill or not fit to work. In a work continuum between being absent while sick and being present, it is part of being present but lacking the readiness or physical preparedness to deliver the expected output. Author Helen Rideout, in her book ‘Employee Risks Management,’ calls presenteeism a “paradox” wherein an employer introduces initiatives to reduce absenteeism but creates another problem that is worse than the problem being corrected.


Studies conducted by Statistics Canada estimate that productivity loss due to presenteeism is almost eight times more than that due to absenteeism. Such an unexpected impact has seen many companies sit up, as they begin to look into the absolute value effects of presenteeism on their overall corporate health and wealth.


Measuring Presenteeism Loss


A number of givens are already established when employees are accepted for engagement: sick leave, vacation leave, among other benefits. These types of leave are considered paid and are part of the equation of employment. However, sick leave is supposed to be applied for only as sickness occurs. This makes it easy to pinpoint employees exhibiting unusual absences. Expect that these same employees are the ones with low output levels.


However, this is not the case with presenteeists! The losses from employees who are present but who are silently suffering from an illness or an emotional problem are difficult to identify. While their output levels may be observed for decline, it is only after a time, when these levels become obviously abnormal, that the employees are known.


Incidence of Presenteeism


Presenteesim can be seen in such situations as:


1. An obviously sick worker valiantly reporting for work.
2. A worker who has gone on sick leave for a couple of days and who goes back to work not yet totally well.
3. An employee who is suffering from a chronic illness that isn’t quite serious enough to justify bed rest, such as chronic pain, asthma or migraine.
4. An employee suffering from emotional or mental distress caused by a personal or family problem such as a divorce, or death in the family.
5. An employee suffering from an injury that inconveniences them physically but which doesn’t seem to affect their work.
6. An employee who loves their work so much they don’t want to incur any absence at all.
7. An employee who attends work due to the pressure that their absence would put on colleagues, as is often the case with teachers, nurses, and other care workers.


Employees resort to such practice for various reasons: to save leave benefits for some future use, to impress superiors with job commitment, to avoid embarrassment, to keep from being reprimanded for absences, to avoid loss of pay, to meet work deadlines, or to avoid job overload upon return to work.


Ways to Reduce Presenteeism


If presenteeism is common practice in any workplace, it might be necessary to: overhaul programs that reward good attendance in your company; discourage working long hours and taking work home; promote annual holidays; improve working conditions; educate on work-life balance; or, otherwise getting employees involved in a company-wide wellness program to keep everybody fit and well.

Categories: Business, Occupational, Psychology

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