Productivity and sick employees

Practically every workplace has one — the employee who comes to the job aching, coughing and sneezing. So called ‘presenteeism’ or going to work when sick, is a persistent problem at more than half of US workplaces and costs US business a whopping $180 billion a year, research shows.

Like its more notorious counterpart ‘absenteeism’, it takes on growing importance as employers try to keep an eye on productivity and the bottom line, experts say.

Employers are increasingly concerned about the threat that sick employees pose in the workplace, said, an analyst at CCH, provider of business and corporate law information. Presenteeism can take a very real hit on the bottom line, although it is often unrecognized.

Recognition of the issue is growing however research shows 56% of human resource executives see presenteeism as a problem. That’s up from 39% making the same complaint two years ago.

Presenteeism costs employers in terms of lowered productivity prolonged illness by sick workers and the potential spread of illness to colleagues and customers, experts say.

Presenteeism can prove elusive to measure, unlike absenteeism, said a professor of Psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University and an expert on workplace stress.

Yet it’s something almost everyone not only recognizes but probably has experienced. We all think we know somebody who’s made us sick, when that person is speaking into the same phone or touching your computer or even turning your doorknob. Canceling a class because the professor has a cold doesn’t seem justifiable. The teacher can keep a distance from the students amd try not to cough at them.

As often as two-thirds of the time, sick people go to work because they feel they have too much work to do, according to the CCH study. The second most common reason is workers believe no one else is available to cover their workload.

With corporate downsizings of the past creating a leaner workforce, employees often feel they have to show up for work, whether it’s out of guilt over staying home or concerns over job security.

In fact, presenteeism is often encouraged, as employees may be honored for perfect attendance, experts note. There’s an American ethic to tough it out, rise to the occasion and ignore your minor woes. It sounds really wimpy to say you’re not going to come to work just because you have a cold.

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