Presenteeism – when employees show up to work when they shouldn’t – is the flip side of absenteeism, and it’s just as corrosive to productivity and worker morale.
Typically, presenteeism refers to workers who are actively sick and potentially contagious. At best, they’ll be unproductive. At worst, they’ll spread their illness around the workplace, causing productivity losses to multiply. For this reason, presenteeism can be even costlier than absenteeism.
And unlike absenteeism, workplace culture can actually encourage presenteeism. For example, some managers believe that unplanned absences mean the worker is slacking. If the employee believes that their managers will hold their absence against them, they will come into the office even if they shouldn’t. In other cases, workers might feel they have no choice; millions of American workers have no paid sick leave, so they will come into work, no matter their condition, because otherwise they go unpaid.
Some managers might think showing up while sick demonstrates dedication; after all, isn’t getting “some” work done better than none?
The answer is a flat no; presenteeism is quite costly. For one thing, it can reduce individual productivity by more than a third. One study found that the total annual cost per person of presenteeism is $3,055.
Indeed, the Society for Human Resource Management estimates the cost of presenteeism at $150 billion to $250 billion per year. That’s more than half of all productivity losses in the workplace and is greater than the costs of medical care, prescription drugs and absenteeism combined.
Best practices to prevent presenteeism:
· Offer flexible working options. Flex benefits are becoming increasingly popular in the workplace. “That way the employee gets some work done and doesn’t infect other workers,” says Ellen Kossek, a Purdue University faculty member who researches presenteeism.
· Offer paid sick leave or PTO. Many workers who do not have access to some kind of leave benefits will simply come into the office rather than go unpaid. Appropriate benefits are the only way to prevent presenteeism in this group.
· Do not punish or disincentivize employees for taking time off when sick. Policies that make it difficult or unpleasant for employees to stay home when they are genuinely unwell will incentivize presenteeism. Instead, create policies that allow employees to recover without worrying about reprisal or punitive action.
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