Women Office

Presenteeism – working whatever the cost?

Have you ever gone to work while sick? Does the word “presenteeism” mean anything to you? This is definitely a phenomenon deserving of more attention because its short-term gain eventually results in long-term pain in the form of higher costs, stress and chronic illness.

What is presenteeism?

On the rise, presenteeism should be taken seriously. Basically this word means that an employee will go to work even if they are in no fit state to do so.

Why does presenteeism need to be considered?

In 2021, a representative study of 1,400 employees by the Bern University of Applied Sciences and Travail.Suisse showed that 29.1% of respondents go to work when they are sick either ‘often’ or ‘very often’. In 2020, the level was 23.8%.

These are alarming statistics! Working when you’re ill may make your condition worse or possibly even chronic, resulting in a noticeable drop in productivity and higher costs for your employer. But what many people don’t know is that turning up at all costs has Presenteeism a heavier economic impact than Absenteeism. A meta-analysis carried out in Germany showed that 27 workdays per employee each year are lost to the effects of ill health. One-third of these days were due to sick leave but two-thirds to employees performing below par simply because they were too ill to work properly.

Recognising those factors that encourage presenteeism?

If you know – in your company – why people show up when ill, that makes it easier to act on the root of the problem.

What I can (as an employer) do to prevent people showing up for work when ill?

  • Promote good physical, social and emotional health

Healthy employees are less prone to presenteeism. Helping employees become more health literate will pay off. Special deals to encourage healthy eating and exercise are also useful. It is especially important to raise awareness about emotional health, including coping with stress, mindfulness, motivation and resilience.

  • Make workplaces and structures more affirming

Invest in ergonomic workplaces and provide sufficient resources so that employees can do their work as stress-free as possible. This includes an adequate flow of information, scope for taking initiative and opportunities for inclusion. Specific resources need to be provided and stress factors such as conflicts and time pressure must be reduced.

  • Enhance the working environment

An atmosphere of trust and barrier-free communication are prerequisites for addressing sensitive issues. The best way to prevent presenteeism is a corporate culture in which good employee health is seen as a prerequisite for business success and treated accordingly. Address the issue of presenteeism without taboos and publicise examples of successful reintegrations after lengthy absences (e.g. through a newsletter or communication campaign). This can minimise the fear of negative consequences after a long time away from work.

  • Protect security of employment

Ensure people are paid adequately to avoid feeling having to come to work to pay their bills or due to fear of losing their job.

  • Encourage healthy leadership

As a manager you are a role model. If you come to work when you’re ill, the people reporting to you are under pressure to behave in the same manner. Putting in place a leadership culture focused on your staff will ensure a lasting dedication to their overall health. Don’t forget that working from home when ill is just presenteeism in a different guise.

It will pay off!

Investing in employee health over the long term is definitely worth it. Over time this will lead to lower expenses as well as contributing to a positive working atmosphere, which can help foster innovation and enhance the employer brand. It pays to also invest energy in those employees who are healthy – this is the best form of prevention. If you’d like a review of how your company is faring in the area of presenteeism, we’d be happy to help.