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The Problem with Presenteeism
ONC Editorial

Aug 14, 2023

Presenteeism impairs the health and efficiency of both ill people and their coworkers.

Presenteeism occurs where employees attend work in spite of health issues that justify absence. It is associated with poor employee and workplace productivity, reduced team cohesion, disease spread in workplaces and more long-term employee absences. 

Presenteeism is also a cyclical problem: employees who work instead of resting or seeing a doctor are typically ill for longer, and may have worse symptoms. Presentee workers may work while ill for longer because they were unable to recover initially.

In the past, most research on lost workplace productivity has focused on absenteeism (failing to attend work as scheduled) rather than presenteeism because absences are formally reported and easier to identify. Recently, studies like that of Daniela Lohaus and Wolfgang Habermann are highlighting the negative impacts of presenteeism and its relationship to absenteeism.

Workers are likely to attend work while ill if they do not have paid sick leave, coworkers to fill their roles, strong workplace boundaries with superiors or a feeling of control over their work. 

Additionally, sick employees often attend work because they feel that their coworkers will face additional burdens if they are absent for even a few days. This is sometimes a perpetuating cycle. Employees who fear taking sick leave are often overwhelmed to begin with, and stress increases one’s risk of becoming ill.

There are conflicting opinions about the benefits of paid sick leave. Generally, Democrats tend to favor bills supporting workers’ rights to a certain number of paid-sick-leave days. In contrast, Republicans are less likely to support paid sick leave. 

In addition to state or federal policies, workplace and company policies also offer solutions to presenteeism. The latter often reduce presenteeism by addressing its risk factors, such as feeling overburdened by work or not having strong workplace boundaries with superiors. 

Presenteeism impairs the health and efficiency of both ill individuals and their coworkers, and policy changes on many levels may help prevent workers from coming to work while sick.

Diane Bao is a master’s of Public Health student specializing in Epidemiology at the UT Health School of Public Health in Austin. She is originally from Dallas, Texas, and plans to work in epidemiology after receiving her degree. In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing and learning Chinese.

To see all sources consulted/reviewed for this article, click HERE

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