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What is presenteeism and why is it important?

11/01/2006

Question:

What is presenteeism and why is it important? This seems to be the new catch phrase around the office.

Answer:

Every work day hundreds of people go to work even though they are not feeling one hundred percent. These people, who are feeling lousy and may be contagious, are not able to work as effectively as they would if their health was better. This phenomena, called presenteeism, is having a significant effect on productivity in businesses and may actually be a bigger issue in worksites than absenteeism.

Some common reasons for presenteeism may be:

  • The hectic pace and high pressures associated with many work places¬†is having a¬†greater effect on productivity.
  • When an individual is faced with the loss of pay or loss of their job, they may come to work even when sick.
  • Pressure to succeed and meet the significant demands of our fast-paced world frequently trumps the need for self-care when ill.

Research conducted at the Cornell Institute for Health and Productivity Studies estimates that on-the-job productivity losses from presenteeism may be as high as 60 percent of the total cost of worker illness. Those conditions leading to the most significant productivity losses include:

  • headaches
  • allergies
  • arthritis
  • asthma
  • diabetes
  • mental health issues
  • caregiving for those who are ill (in a 1999 MetLife Healthcare Survey, 39 percent of caregivers reported being distracted at work)

The expenses associated with these types of productivity losses surpass medical costs in general in some instances. While not going to work for one or two days when ill may seem initially like a significant impediment to “getting the job done”, examination of the costs associated with this behavior highlights the benefit of rest and self-care to minimize exacerbation of symptoms and passing illness on to others. Worksites that offer onsite medical care and educate their employees on self-care measures may minimize the impact of presenteeism thereby enhancing productivity.

For more information:

Go to the Worksite Health health topic.