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Presenteeism in the Workplace

Question:

I keep hearing people refer to “presenteeism” in the workplace. What is that and why does my boss want me to look into what it is costing the company? I’ve never heard that term before!

Answer:

Presenteeism refers to employees who are on the job but, because of illness or other medical conditions, are not fully functioning.  These employees are physically present at work but are distracted to the point of not working at full capacity due to physicial or emotional issues.  Chronic conditions such as allergies, arthritis, migraines, back pain, gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes, and depression can lead to presenteeism issues, just to name a few.  Researchers indicate that presenteeism can cut individual productivity by one-third or more. In fact, data suggests that it is a much more costly problem to employers than absenteeism AND it is difficult to manage.  With presenteeism, employees show up to work but it is difficult to tell when or how much an illness or a medical condition is hindering someone’s performance.  They may “look fine” but there performance may be suffering. Presenteeism is thought to be more prevalent during tough economic times, because people are afraid to miss work, potentially causing them to lose their jobs.

Determining the cost of presenteeism to the company is a challenge since the costs are nearly invisible to employers.  It is hard to put a cost on the problem until the person has “checked out” to the point that it is obvious that their productivity is suffering.  There are two surveys available free on line from the World Health Organization that you can use to set a baseline in your organization.  The surveys (links below) can help you determine if there is a problem, possibly put some costs on the issue, and determine what, if any course of action needs to be taken.

World Health Organization –  Health and Work Performance Questionnaire (HPQ)

Tufts Medical Center Work Limitations Questionnaire (WLQ)

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