What Is Presenteeism?


Imagine this. You wake up feeling a bit under the weather. You may have the sniffles, a cough, or a sore throat, but you feel like you can probably get through the day. What do you do? If you’re like most people, you likely assume that your best course of action is to take some cold medicine, stuff your pockets with lozenges and tissues and head to work as usual.

Employees often figure that their boss would prefer that they power through the illness to avoid paying sick time or losing man power but that’s not always the case. Many businesses are beginning to realize that there are more downsides to having sick employees show up at work than there are benefits.

What is Presenteeism?

Known as presenteeism, this relatively new idea stems from the concept of absenteeism. While absenteeism negatively affects businesses by having less employees in the office to do the work, presenteeism can be equally harmful. The employee is physically present but less productive than usual. Due to a lack of mental focus, mistakes are more likely to be made and work takes longer to complete when someone is battling a cold, allergies or overall fatigue.

Another harmful side effect of presenteeism is that one sick and contagious employee can have a domino effect in the close-knit community of an office. Germs are easily spread when you work closely with others and before you know it, you could be down several employees instead of just one.

Why Is Presenteeism So Common?

Most people would rather stay home when they’re feeling sick but more often than not, workers force themselves to come into the office. The reasons why they feel obligated can vary but are often related to one of the following:

  • Not Enough Paid Sick Days – People have bills to pay and often can’t afford to not get paid when they’re sick. In order to avoid falling behind financially, they come into work even when they should stay in bed. This is true for both jobs that don’t offer paid sick time and individuals who have exhausted their allotted sick days.
  • Feeling the Pressure – Even if you don’t mean to make employees feel obligated to come into work when they’re sick, many workers feel the pressure to perform under any circumstance, especially in an unstable economy where job security is not guaranteed. They don’t want to seem like they don’t care about their job and risk any negative side effects, like missing out on a promotion or losing their job in extreme cases, due to taking too many sick days.
  • Meeting Deadlines – If the worker is under a deadline, they may not want to miss a day and risk falling behind on their work. This may also be the case for employees who are working on a team project and don’t want to let their team members down.
  • Saving Sick Days – Since the number of sick days is finite, some employees may try to save them for times that they really need them. They figure that they can work through the sniffles but may need to stock up on sick days in case they come down with the dreaded flu. If they have children, they may also save their sick days to stay home with the kids when they get sick instead.

What Can Employers Do About Presenteeism?

  • Be Clear About Your Expectations When Employees Are Sick – Set guidelines for when people should come into work and when they should stay at home to avoid infecting others.
  • Send Home Sick Employees – If someone shows up to work who is clearly feeling under the weather, set a good example by sending them home. By doing so, you make it clear to everyone that it’s not only okay to stay home but it’s encouraged in order to keep the rest of the office healthy.
  • Offer the Ability to Telecommute on Sick Days – For employees who are contagious but still feel up to working, offer the chance to telecommute on sick days. This way they won’t fall behind or use precious sick days when they’re mind is fully functioning but they’re body is not.
  • Provide Paid Sick Leave – Many businesses already offer paid sick leave as a benefit to employees but those that don’t should seriously consider it if they want to avoid having sick people in the workplace.

By acknowledging presenteeism, employers can begin to take steps to change the status quo. Encourage workers to take a sick day when needed without fear of consequence and you’ll likely see a reduction in overall workplace illness and an improvement in productivity as your employees return healthy and well-rested.