In the last few years, “presenteeism” has become an even bigger concern for many employers than absenteeism. Although many HR/benefits managers hate the admittedly overused term, presenteeism is nevertheless a real issue in almost every workplace.
Most commonly, presenteeism takes the form of employees coming to work sick. They’re unproductive and endanger co-workers. Meanwhile, the employee is not forced to use a sick day. A bad deal for employers all the way around.
A recent survey by LifeCare revealed that 93% of employees (polled from 1,500 organizations) admit that they at least ocassionally come to work when they’re sick enough to stay home. More important, the study looked at the reasons why folks do it.
The No. 1 reason employees cited for coming to work sick was a belief that they’d be “letting other people down” if they call out. Nearly 30% of respondents cited this as their main reason. Beyond that, the top responses were:
- It’s too risky, due to office politics or culture, to take time off (26%)
- The employee is too busy at work to be able to stay home a day (15%)
- The employee saves up sick days for childcare/eldercare emergencies (12%), and
- The employee saves up sick days to use as extra vacation time (8%).
Many of these rationales are troubling to HR/benefits managers.
In the first place, supervisors who hassle employees about taking legitimate sick time are, at best, being pennywise and poundfoolish. Presenteeism costs more than absenteeism, once you figure in the uncharged sick days, lack of productivity and risk of other employees getting sick.
You have more power than you think to change your company culture if the “tough it out” mentality still applies to people who come in sick. When upper management is confronted with the real dollars and cents of presenteeism, reducing the problem usually becomes a priority. At the very least, firms shouldn’t invite it.
In terms of supervisor- and employee-education, repetition of the “stay home if you’re sick” message is the key. Eventually, it’ll sink in.
Of course, there’s still the problem — as evidenced by the survey — of employees who misuse their sick days by trying to hoard them for other purposes. Adopting PTO, no-fault absence policies or use-it-lose-it sick time are the three most common ways of reducing the risk, but be aware that each of these policies have risks of their own.
At the end of the day, the more open the lines of communication are between management and employees, the less prevalent the presenteeism problem becomes.