Presenteeism – what is it and what does it mean for your workplace?

We are all familiar with the problem of absenteeism, and for many HR departments managing absence the in the workplace is a top priority. However, the concept of sickness presenteeism and it’s negative impact on the workplace could make HR managers re-think their focus.

Sickness presenteeism is when employees come to work when in their opinion they would be justified in taking time off for ill-health. This could be physical ill health such as a bad back, headache or cold, or a mental health issue such as anxiety, stress or depression. The problem of presenteeism is that it has a stronger negative impact on performance than absenteeism, and is harder to see, measure and manage.

A report has been written by The Work Foundation, which explores presenteeism in detail. Here are some of the key findings.

The main negative effects of high levels of presenteeism for the organisation are:-

  • a significant related fall in performance standards, sickness absence is not so closely related
  • lower levels of line manager assessed performance of the individuals
  • the individuals have a reduced level of psychological well-being
  • higher levels of absenteeism

So why would employees come in to work when they are unwell? The report found the following factors were significant:-

  • Personal financial difficulty
  • Work-related stress
  • Perceived pressure from colleagues and managers
  • No available cover for work
  • Not wanting to let the team down
  • Worry about commission and pay

Prof Cary Cooper has also found in studies that the recession has made people more concerned about job security, so they are even more likely to come into work when they are unwell.

The key recommendations for organisations is to look at health and well-being in the workplace as a whole and not just focus on absence management. Improving health and well-being will reduce both absenteeism and presenteeism.

So, what is health and well-being at work? Here are the comments of some the employees who took part in the study for The Work Foundation:-

  • Feeling that your managers care, they notice when you are unwell or unhappy
  • Feeling appreciated
  • Having flexibility when you are unwell to make adjustments to your work
  • Being able to fulfil your potential
  • Having a voice in the workplace – staff survey, forums for example
  • Fairness – consistent treatment for everyone
  • Openness – being kept informed of what’s happening

The Work Foundation recommends that organisations look at:-

  • Workplace culture – how is absence management implemented? Does everyone understand the policies and are they consistently applied?
  • Line managers are able to recognise and deal with stress
  • Employees have the ability to make adjustments to work, maybe as result of Fit Note
  • Financial support – provide some financial education to the workforce
  • Monitoring and evaluation of health and well-being in the workplace, not just absence management

For a copy of the full report by The Work Foundation please click here – Why do Employees Come to Work When Ill?

This post was written by Charlie Damonsing of CLAssociates. CLAssociates specialises in helping businesses manage stress in the workplace, providing consultancy, training and 1-2-1 support. For further details please contact Charlie on 0771 559 6487.