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The Curse of Presenteeism

All this Presenteeism is Making Me Sick!

The Curse of Presenteeism


By Mark Swartz

Canadian Workplace Specialist

A-choo! ‘Scuse me for sneezing so loud. Sorry I couldn’t cover my nose in time, that one kinda snuck up on me. Say, you got a Kleenex handy? Boy I feel lousy today. Woke up with sandpaper in my throat and a bonfire under my skin. But gosh almighty the boss’ll be super glad to see me. Aren’t I the dedicated employee!

The Curse of Presenteeism

Ever gone to work even though you were sick as a dog? That’s presenteeism. According to a Desjardins Financial Security National Health Survey in 2007, 42% of Canadians reported in to their jobs when ill or exhausted. Rather than taking a day or two off, they downed gallons of Robitussin, swallowed Aspirin by the handful, bundled themselves up cozy and toddled off to their place of employment.

Once there, they’ve spread their germs around like confetti at a wedding. Then suffered from reduced productivity and poor concentration. Just the way you want your key staff to be: semi-conscious and dripping with toxic bacteria.

Why oh why do people show up on days they should be home in bed resting?

Money and Deadlines

Some folks are plain old determined to keep going no matter what befalls them. We praise them by calling them “troopers.” We marvel at their commitment. Secretly we fear they’re exposing us to H1N1 and making the rest of us look weak or disloyal.

Here are the most commonly cited reasons in the survey for not taking a sick day:

• Looming deadlines (61 per cent)
• Preventing workload pile-up (55 per cent)
• Not wanting colleagues to be overloaded (49 per cent)
• Concern about missing work being frowned upon (41 per cent)
• Not being able to miss the income (40 per cent)

When asked about their daily work reality, many respondents complained of increased stress, heavy workloads and a lack of recognition from their employer.

Break The Cycle Of Contagion

A substantial percentage of colds, flu cases, and other contagious illnesses are caught when people enter a hospital – where cleanliness is paramount. Now imagine your workplace, where no one scrubs the walls daily with disinfectant cleaners, people shake hands unprotected, share telephones and computer keyboards, handle doorknobs and pass reports back and forth. It’s a breeding ground for yucky stuff.

Which means other employees will invariably get sick too, leading to more presenteeism, and so on.

You can reduce the incidence of additional infections by encouraging ill staff members to take a paid day off or two. This also helps the afflicted employee heal quicker. Sure there’ll be some abuse of this policy. On the whole though, your other staff will thank you for protecting their health. Anyway a sick worker may be able to do some work from home if necessary, mitigating some of the loss for being absent.

It’s important to let people know that they won’t be penalized for quarantining themselves – providing of course they’re really under the weather. Lead by example: next time you awaken soaked through your pyjamas with a temperature nearing that of the Sun, call in sick yourself. You may be saving your organization big bucks by doing so. And that, of course, is nothing to sneeze at.