What is 'Presenteeism'

Presenteeism is defined as the problem of employees who are not fully functioning in the workplace because of an illness, injury or other condition. Even though the employee may be physically at work, he may not be able to fully perform his duties and is more likely to make mistakes on the job.

BREAKING DOWN 'Presenteeism'

Presenteeism is fairly common in most workplaces, even though it is a topic that is not often discussed. We all have (or at least have known of) that one co-worker who still shows up to work even though she may be feeling ill, is injured or is going through some stressful situation. 

Consequences of Presenteeism

Simply put, presenteeism costs employers money. While an employee may think he is doing good by still showing up for work despite being injured, stressed or ill, that is not always the case. In fact, the opposite is usually true. That's because he may end up being less productive or, even worse, make many mistakes while on the job, all of which can cost the company so much more than if he were to stay home. Furthermore, in the case of a physically sick employee who shows up to work, the cost of that employee's illness is likely to spread to other workers.

According to a study quoted by Forbes in an April 2018 article, presenteeism costs the U.S. economy more than $150 billion each year. The study surveyed 29,000 working adults and was called the American Productivity Audit. Meanwhile, two studies conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that productivity lost on the job due to illness and/or depression were three times more costly than those that resulted from absent employees. 

Presenteeism vs. Absenteeism

Presenteeism is a very underreported phenomenon compared to absenteeism, but people are slowly beginning to shed more light on it as workplaces become more demanding of their employees. One of the main reasons why it has flown under the radar is because it can be difficult to quantify how productive or unproductive an employee will be when she is ill and still at work. 

But absenteeism is a much more studied and reported concept. Absenteeism is when employees do not show up for scheduled work at all. This is often habitual in nature, without any good reason behind it. These absences from the workplaces are often unplanned. Some studies say the full cost of absenteeism is also difficult to quantify, partly because companies are not able to fully tell how productive an absent employee would have been even if he showed up and was on the job. 

Reasons for Presenteeism

So why do employees engage in presenteeism? There may be a number of — or even a combination of — reasons why, including:

  • A fear of losing one's job
  • Lack of sick days available, not enough time off or not willing to take vacation days for illnesses
  • Love of one's job and/or loyalty to the company
  • Feelings of irreplaceability in the workplace
  • A staffing shortage
  • Diminishing chances of career advancement

For example, a doctor may show up to work even if she is feeling under the weather. She may be the only doctor in the clinic, may feel a sense of loyalty to her patients or may even feel fearful of losing some of her patients. 

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