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Reduce "Presenteeism" to Decrease Absenteeism

Fall is here, winter is coming and cold and flu season soon will be in full swing. Close quarters and bad health habits in the office create an environment for one of an employer’s greatest seasonal challenges: increased absenteeism.

But did you know there is a hidden contributor to absenteeism? It's called presenteeism. And it could be costing all of us more than you might think.

Presenteeism – a term coined for people who come into the office when under the weather and are often less productive – has been found to be costing employers more than absenteeism. According to a study done by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), presenteeism costs organizations $180 billion annually, while absenteeism costs $118 billion a year.

Not only are ill workers who come to the office less productive, they increase the chances of other employees getting sick as well. This contributes to a perpetuation of even more presenteeism and absenteeism.  This unspoken “culture of illness” puts your personal productivity and the productivity of your company on the line. Why do people insist on coming to work instead of calling in sick?

Productivity vs Presenteeism and the Workplace Culture of Illness w Caption

Corporate culture can invite illness into the office when it fails to encourage employees to stay home when ill. An article from Business Know-How lists three causes of presenteeism: 

1. Increase in dual-earner and "sandwich generation" households

  • Parents are saving their sick days to take care of children or elderly parents

2. Employer expectations

  • People don’t want to seem less committed to their jobs                            

3. Little or no paid sick days

  • Many employees are not offered paid time off for personal time

In order to reduce presenteeism to decrease absenteeism what can an employer do?

Take some of these suggestions into consideration in order to encourage your employees to stay home when they are sick:

  • Review your company's policies to make sure there are no provisions that unduly pressure sick employees to report to work (e.g., absenteeism policies that say employees who use up their accrued sick time may be subject to discipline, even if they have a doctor's note.)
  • Send sick employees home. Acknowledge the employee's commitment, and stress that the directive to go home isn't disciplinary in nature but that you're looking out for everyone's best interests.
  • Make sure executives, managers and supervisors do not exert pressure on workers to come into work while sick; tell them they are also expected to lead by example and stay home when they are ill.
  • Encourage all departments to cross-train staff, so employees will be able to cover for absent colleagues.
  • Allow sick workers to work from home, if they are able and they choose to do so.

As an employee, what can you do?Reducing Absences By Reducing Presenteeism w Caption

Before you go to work when feeling sick, answer the following questions:

  • How well can you carry out your work duties?
  • Are you contagious?
  • Will resting at home help your body to overcome the illness? 
  • Are you taking medications that could impair your ability to think, work, operate machinery or drive?

Make an effort this cold and flu season to do your part to reduce presenteeism in your workplace, which will, in turn, decrease absenteeism overall.


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Temporary and permanent employment are often considered when examining the antecedents of presenteeism. More specifically, researchers have studied these positions with the thought that job insecurity (job security) will cause those who do not have permanent positions to come to work more often even if they are sick

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