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Presenteeism

Presenteeism is the action of employees coming to work despite having a sickness that justifies an absence and as a consequence, they are performing their work under sub-optimal conditions.[1]

When employees come to work not mentally present due to an illness, extreme family/life pressures or stress, they are not giving themselves adequate time to get better. While they are at work their performance can deteriorate. Presenteeism can affect an organization just as sickness or absence can in terms of productivity and performance.

Stressful life events have been directly linked to health problems, absenteeism and presenteeism[2]. The cause of the event determines whether an employee is more likely to contribute to absenteeism or presenteeism. Individuals who have undergone treatment for a physical illness, such as a heart condition, have a higher correlation with absenteeism than presenteeism. Where as individuals who have sought psychological help or undergone counselling have a higher correlation with presenteeism than absenteeism.

Presenteeism is most common in people with children, lower waged workers, employees with poor health status and those who have difficulties setting limits when confronted with excessive demands[3].

Some of the reasons employees have for presenteeism include:

  • cannot afford to take the day off;
  • there is no back-up plan for tasks the individual is responsible for;
  • when they returned to work, there would be even more to do;
  • committed to personally attending meetings or events;
  • concerned about job insecurity related to downsizing or restructuring.

Heavy workload was found to be the most important predictor of increased presenteeism. Some of the other factors that affect presenteeism rates are:[4]

Lower Presenteeism Higher Presenteeism
  • Trust
  • Social Support
  • Decision authority
  • Heavier workloads
  • Higher skill discretion
  • Harmonious relationships with colleagues
  • Role conflict
  • Precarious job status
  • Higher self-efficacy

Although it is often not measured as closely as absenteeism, presenteeism is a major issue in workplaces. It is estimated that the costs of presenteeism may be even greater than the costs of absenteeism.[5] Workers in one study reported going to work in spite of illness 50 percent of the time.

Many organizations assume that if sickness rates are low, employees are generally healthy.  This measurement can create a false positive because presenteeism may be high within the organization despite low absenteeism rates. Many absenteeism reduction measurements do not measure the increase in presenteeism that can accompany reduced absenteeism[6]. This increase can occur when employees feel pressure to attend work despite an illness. Short absences from work can actually be a healthy coping mechanism for some people because it allows them to recuperate[7]. Without measuring presenteeism, productivity can stay constant despite a reduction in absenteeism. WHPP aimed at improving employee health have the ability to reduce both absenteeism and presenteeism. Both of these workplace problems should be measured in order to accurately evaluate the impact of health promotion programming on the organization.

The best way to reduce presenteeism within a workplace is to improve the overall health of employees.

Information:

Here in Body, Absent in Productivity is an informative article by Dr. Graham Lowe. See http://www.grahamlowe.ca/documents/26/2002-12-02-Lowe.pdf

[1] C. Biron et al., “At work but ill: psychosocial work environment and well-being determinants of presenteeism propensity,” Journal of Public Mental Health, 5 (2006) 26.

[2] J. MacGregor, J.B. Cunningham, N. Caverley, “Factors in absenteeism and presenteeism: life events and health events,” Management Research News. Emerald Group Publishing Limited: 31 (2008): 607.

[3] C. Biron et al., “At work but ill: psychosocial work environment and well-being determinants of presenteeism propensity,” Journal of Public Mental Health, 5 (2006) 26.

[4] Ibid

[5] R.Z. Goetzel et al., “Health, absence, disability and presenteeism cost estimates of certain physical and mental health conditions affecting US employers,” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 46 (2004): 398.

[6] C. Biron et al., “At work but ill: psychosocial work environment and well-being determinants of presenteeism propensity,” Journal of Public Mental Health, 5 (2006) 26.

[7] T.S. Kristensen, “Sickness absence and working strain among Danish slaughterhouse workers: an analysis of absence from work regarded as coping behavior.” Social Science Medicine 32 (1991): 15.