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Apr 292010
working; sick

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UK study finds that going to work when sick could cost your employer more than if you stayed at home!

Absenteeism is a common and much reported problem for employers around the world, costs companies millions of Euro every year and has a negative impact on everyone in an organisation. If your colleagues don’t turn up for work, that puts pressure on you, because somebody has to pick up the slack.

What we rarely hear anything about though is the flip side of the same coin: the potential impact of people who attend work when they’re genuinely too sick to do the job.

Perhaps partly because of the rising profile of absenteeism in the workplace, increasing numbers of employees struggle in to work when they would be both physically and psychologically better off taking the day off to recover. According to a pioneering report from UK based employment think tank The Work Foundation, the cost of this sickness presence — or "presenteeism" as they call it — could match or potentially exceed the UK£13bn bill for sickness absence that UK businesses have to foot.

While sickness absence is widely measured and monitored across the public and private sectors, and many businesses are focussed on reducing absenteeism, this report suggests there’s a lack of understanding surrounding "presenteeism", and organisations are generally oblivious to its hidden costs. The authors point out that businesses who don’t address presenteeism in the workplace could be missing out on opportunities to boost productivity and improve employee health and wellbeing.

Commissioned by health insurance employer AXA PPP, the in-depth research study found that employers may be at risk of underestimating employee ill health and may be missing warning signals by focusing purely on absence statistics.

According to the study sickness presence was more prevalent than absence, with 45% of respondents saying they’d turned up for work when sick for one or more days over a four week period, while only 18% reported one or more days’ absence over the same period, and those who did take time of sick were also more likely to work when ill.

"In the current economic climate, with high job insecurity making employees more wary of taking time off, understanding the causes and effects of sickness presence is crucial," warned the report’s lead author, Katherine Ashby. "In addition to sickness absence, measuring sickness presence may provide a more reliable picture of an organisation’s health-related productivity losses."

The researchers found that higher levels of sickness presence were associated with:

    • lower levels of manager assessed performance;

    • lower levels of self-reported psychological wellbeing;

    • higher levels of sickness absence;

    • higher levels of work related stress;

    • experiencing personal financial difficulties;

    • higher levels of perceived pressure from managers and colleagues to work when unwell.

      "It is vital to explore the reasons behind sickness presence especially any work related triggers that are adversely affecting the wellbeing of employees which could be addressed in the workplace. Evidence shows that ‘good work’ – or well designed jobs – helps to improve motivation, job satisfaction and productivity," added Ashby.

      "We also know that the opposite can lead to reduced psychological wellbeing and ill health. In the same way that sickness absence can be a symptom of underlying issues, levels of sickness presence can also be an important indicator of employee health and wellbeing. Organisations need to be aware that low levels of sickness absence may not tell the whole story. Successfully tackling the underlying causes of sickness presenteeism could improve employee wellbeing and so reduce both sickness presence and sickness absence."

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        2 Responses to ““Presenteeism” could cost more than absenteeism”

      1. Great post Calvin. I also think that if going to work when you’re ill you can also be spreading your germs around the workplace and other colleagues become ill too. Particularly with colds and sickness bugs. Better to have a day at home and get rid of it than let it go round and round the office.

      2. […] “Presenteeism” could cost more than absenteeism ( […]

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