Presenteeism – Sick on the job


Presenteeism occurs when employees are physically present in the workplace but they are at very low levels of performance due to a physical or emotional problem.  Presenteeism is a more complex issue than absenteeism. It is much harder to monitor or support a member of your team that is struggling physically or emotionally when they are attending work and not discussing their issues.

This makes the impact and cost of presenteeism extremely hard to measure and managers may only become aware of problems when productivity and performance begin to suffer or when the employee goes out on long term absence. The cost of presenteeism can significantly exceed the absenteeism cost in an organisation, yet it is rarely discussed outside of the Human Resources Department.

Presenteeism can occur for a number of reasons including when people are worried about job security, when organisations have prohibitively strict absenteeism policies, and when people refuse to switch off from work to the extent that their behaviour becomes counter-productive.

Although presenteeism is difficult to monitor, there are some preventative steps organisations can take to reduce the cost and impact when presenteeism occurs:

Stop the Guilt Trip – Employees should not feel obliged to come into the workplace when they know they are sick just to avoid criticism from colleagues. Management should build a culture of trust and empathy to reduce presenteeism.

Negative Marking – Company policy should not discourage people from taking a sick day. Having negative marking where bonuses or job security are impacted when employees are legitimately sick will only damage the overall health of the organisation, team morale and increase presenteeism.

Cross Train- Having people available that can hold the fort until absent staff are back to their best is an important asset to have. Good employees are always looking to upskill and having people with a range of skills and knowledge is a great asset for any organisation. Job rotation is also good for employee learning and morale and adds variety to the work day.

Open Door Policy – As mentioned above, people can be affected by presenteeism and absenteeism for a lot of different reasons. Knowing exactly what is happening in their lives outside of work requires a level of trust that has to be earned by management and should be consistent across the organisation and culture.

Wellbeing as a People Strategy – People drive organisations and health and wellbeing drive people. Nowadays, employees spend so much time in the workplace; other important elements of their life are sacrificed, including fitness, nutrition and family. Developing a culture where people can maintain a healthy and social lifestyle should be ingrained in every organisation culture.

As people become more engaged within the organisation and senior management develop a culture of trust and mutual respect, presenteeism and absenteeism will become more manageable and turnover and medical costs will be reduced.


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