What Is Presenteeism?
Presenteeism is when a people show up to work even though they should be at home. Sometimes the individuals are ill, potentially contagious and not functioning at 100 percent, but they still feel like they should be in the office. Other times, presenteeism can apply to people who work late or come into the office during their vacation. The cost of presenteeism to both employees and workers can be significant.
The term was coined by Cary Cooper, a psychologist who specializes in organizational management.
Why People Are At Work When They Shouldn't Be
You will typically notice a lot of presenteeism occurring during times of economic strain, when businesses are downsizing, trying to save money and become more efficient.
This kind of climate may also cause employees to feel like they are unable to take time off. This could be for a number of specific reasons, including:
- Lack of Paid Sick Days: People either can't afford to take an unpaid day off work, or they don't want to use their vacation time in order to stay home when they are ill.
- Combined Paid Time Off (PTO) Benefits: PTO could include sick leave, but employees may treat all paid time off as vacation and therefore will not use it for sick leave, coming into work ill instead.
- Workplace Culture and Policies: Bosses may discourage or penalize employees for taking sick days, vacation or other types of days off (whether paid or unpaid), even if employees are technically entitled to them. This could cause employees to come into work as an act of job protection.
- Overwhelmed and Overworked Employees: People may feel like they have so much work piled on their plates, or so many deadlines, that it is impossible to take time off without making the company's projects suffer. This often happens when there have been job cuts and extra tasks have been reassigned to those who are still there. In instances where there has been no cross-training, employees may feel like they must be present at work because there is no one else to replace them while they're away.
- No Work-At-Home Alternatives: Companies don't offer telecommuting options in instances where the employee should not be in the office (as in the case of contagious illness) but deadlines need to be met.
- Perception of Job Protection: Workers may come into the office or stay late when they shouldn't be, even if there isn't a whole lot of extra work to do, because they want to be seen as working hard, which they believe will help them keep their job if layoffs are ever in the picture.
- Denial: Some people are sick but still come into work because they convince themselves that although they are not feeling 100 percent, they are feeling well enough to come into work.
What Are the Costs of Presenteeism?
In the case of someone coming to work sick, presenteeism could mean that person's germs get spread to healthy employees. Even if the ill employee feels well enough to perform his or her duties, other people who may have lower immune systems might catch the illness and become much sicker than the person who gave them the illness.
Even though the ill employee is present at work, that employee is not functioning at 100 percent, which can actually cost the employer. The costs of presenteeism may be associated with lower quality of products or services, the consequences of poor customer service, and a greater chance that someone could get injured on the job - all because the employee is not performing at top capacity.
According to various studies, the total cost of presenteeism to U.S. employers falls anywhere between $150 billion to $250 billion each year, and those costs are on the rise as presenteeism becomes more frequent in tight economic times.
Employees who come into work when they are sick may take longer to recover, meaning that they are functioning at less than 100 percent for a longer time. Those who don't take vacation or work very long hours can suffer from stress and depression, as they are not getting the necessary breaks from work.
Presenteeism can also contribute to a negative workplace culture where employees are either expected to or feel like they have to be in the office, no matter what the circumstances. This could lead to low morale and employee resentment.
Rectifying the Presenteeism Problem
Here are a few things employers can do to discourage presenteeism:
- Go over workplace policies - both written and unwritten ones - to make sure that there is nothing in them that might encourage or make employees feel forced to show up to work when they are sick, or when they should be on vacation.
- Provide paid sick days.
- Offer telecommuting options.
- Cross-train employees so no one feels like the office would stop functioning if they don't come into work.