Throughout the month of April, many of us hear the coughs and sniffles that come along with spring weather allergies. But what if those allergies are more chronic, and possibly hindering your productivity? Do we come to work and power through anyway? In this Astronology®, we explore the concept of presenteeism.
What Is Presenteeism?
A Harvard Business Review 2004 article describes presenteeism as “…the problem of workers being on the job but, because of illness or other medical conditions, not fully functioning.” Something as simple as a head cold, to fatigue (which could be a sign of other illnesses), to mental health concerns can result in bouts of presenteeism.
The impact of having employees exhibiting presenteeism ranges from the possibility of infecting other employees with colds (thus lowering their productivity and increasing absences) to monetary loss. For instance, in a Harvard Business Review article, a study by Tufts-New England Medical Center found that presenteeism set a company back approximately $34 million a year. The same article refers to two Journal of the American Medical Association studies that found “on-the-job productivity loss resulting from depression and pain was roughly three times greater than the absence-related productive loss attributed to these conditions.” These findings indicate that it may be better for employees to stay home instead of coming to work and “toughing it out.”
A Closer Look at the Source
What are some of the reasons why employees come to work when they are not at their best? Four primary reasons for presenteeism include the following:
- Workaholic Characteristics – There are some people who truly enjoy their work and their work environment. In other cases, some workers may feel that only they can handle their responsibilities.
- Workplace Culture & Expectations – In some workplaces, taking days off (even when you have the appropriate sick days / paid time off) is seen as “letting the team down” or appearing less committed to work. This type of environment also results in employees developing a fear of losing their jobs.
- Living in a Dual Earner & “Sandwich Generation” Household – Without a stay-at-home spouse to care for a sick child, some workers, in an effort to conserve their paid sick days for when their children are sick, will go to work even when they aren’t feeling well. In some cases, workers are part of the “Sandwich Generation,” raising their children while also caring for aging parents. Employees in such a situation may be attempting to conserve all the paid time off / sick leave they have just to care for others.
- Lingering / Chronic Health Issues – In the Harvard Business Review, $1.8 million of the $34 million in presenteeism loss was due to lingering / chronic ailments such as allergies / sinus trouble. It was considered the most prevalent ailment in the study.
How to Combat Presenteeism
Is presenteeism an issue in your organization? How can we prevent presenteeism from being an issue? The following tips may help to address presenteeism:
- Rethink the use of disciplinary action to control absenteeism – Are your absence control policies counterproductive? Programs that have extensive disciplinary action for absences may cause employees to feel obligated to come into work when they really should stay home.
- Develop a culture that discourages presenteeism – Although all employers appreciate a dedicated employee, there’s no need for an employee to demonstrate that dedication by coming to work sick. Organizations can communicate this through a variety of ways, from making certain wellness programs / workshops available, to even sending a reminder through company circulated newsletters / notes on seasonal concerns and the options employees have. Organizational leaders also can lead by example by using such resources when the time arrives. Emergencies can be handled via telephone / email if necessary.
- Partner with a disability insurance carrier to leverage existing resources – These consultants can help an organization to foster a proactive approach in addressing presenteeism, by identifying and determining appropriate support for employees whose health concerns may be more acute. A disability consultant also can help employees get the best use out of their current resources for proper care.
- Be open-minded with accommodations – The ADA Amendments Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with health conditions in the workplace. Do your best to make sure that your organization abides by these accommodations.
Is presenteeism an issue at your organization? Are there any solutions you are currently taking or planning to take in order to combat it? Share in our comments section below!