Has your organization noticed a trend where employees come for work in spite of having an injury or an illness? Although the employee has a choice of taking a leave and resting at home, s/he chooses to come to office in order to meet the deadlines.
This what we’d like to call ‘Presenteeism’. As opposed to absenteeism, presenteeism deals with the consequences of coming to work when one is injured or is keeping ill health. Today, employers look at it as a bigger concern than absenteeism as it has a greater negative impact on productivity and because its implications are difficult to quantify.
What makes Presenteeism difficult to measure and quantify is the very fact that the employee is present at work. Despite the illness or the injury, the employee might still be able to get work done. However, the productivity level might be impacted as the illness or injury might take away some of the focus the employee should ideally channelize towards work.
There are several theoretical models that have elaborated the characteristics of Presenteeism. Broadly, there are two types of presenteeism: Sickness and Non-sickness. While the former involves coming to work in spite of being unwell, the latter deals with coming to work in spite of other personal problems such as a death in the family.
One might wonder-why is it that an employee comes to office when it is crucial for him/her to be away from work and focus on other aspects of one’s life? Why is it that employees choose work over taking care of one’s health or being with one’s family under crucial circumstances? Answers to these questions could range from the employee being a workaholic who is addicted to one’s work to the employee being scared to take a leave as that might affect his/her work prospects.
What can organizations do to ensure employees do not become victims of presenteeism?
- Promoting Wellness at Work: Although presenteeism is gradually on the rise in the corporate world, employees who are victims of it may not be aware of its consequences. Thus, the first step that organizations should take is to tell its employees about presenteeism and its implications. With regard to sickness presenteeism, employees need to know about the importance of being responsible for one’s health. While there are several wellness initiatives that organizations can implement, the onus of the responsibility lies within the employee.
- Supportive Work Culture: The occurrence of presenteeism is not likely to stop when employees are the only ones to realize its consequences. Organizations need to be equally supportive in this endeavour. This could begin by inculcating a work culture that is supportive of the needs and preferences of its employees. Employees are bound to have commitments in other domains of their lives and they need to be given the freedom to prioritize between their personal and professional lives.
- Flexible Leave Policies: Another initiative that organizations could take would be to establish a leave policy that draws a fine balance between having a reasonable attendance requirement and gives employees the right degree of autonomy. The importance of using leaves and taking a break from work needs to be emphasised on as well. While commitment is a good sign, over-commitment could be damaging to the employee and to the organization. Thus, a clear boundary needs to be drawn in this regard.
Organizations are likely to have employees who might appreciate the efforts being taken to curb presenteeism but who strongly believe that coming to work when one is ill or injured is a personal choice. The work environment might support the employee’s decision to take leaves and the other colleagues might be understanding towards the employee’s situation as well. However, the employee might still prefer to be at work and contribute in one’s capacity. Under such circumstances, could tackling presenteeism might be a bigger challenge?
To end on a hopeful note, here’s a situation that might stir a line of thought.
The next time you see employees in your organization coming to work when they are unwell or injured, you could remind them of the following:
“By coming to work when you are unwell or injured, you are hurting yourself in the long run. In other words, the money that you will earn by working today might just be spent on expensive healthcare in the future as you are not making the effort to take care of yourself when you have that choice.”