Most organisations are aware that they need to manage absenteeism and record absence trends. However, presenteeism (employees coming to work when they actually feel they are too ill to work) and the impact it has on organisational performance may not be so widely understood. Presenteeism (i.e. ‘sickness presence’ rather than ‘sickness absence’) appears to have a stronger negative impact on performance than absenteeism, and is harder to see, measure and manage.
The Work Foundation produced a report on presenteeism (based on qualitative interviews with 25 teams of employees and an online survey of 510 employees) in April 2010 (http://tinyurl.com/2e58erq) which outlined some very interesting findings:
- Presenteeism is associated with a significant related fall in performance standards: employees with higher levels of sickness presence had significantly lower performance scores compared with those with lower levels of sickness presence.
- Employees with a greater number of days of sickness presence reported higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of psychological wellbeing.
- Employees with higher levels of sickness presence also had higher levels of absence.
Three main factors (two of them work-related) were linked with higher levels of presenteeism, including:
- personal financial difficulties (very relevant during times of economic/labour market uncertainty when employees are less likely to want to take time off work due to illness);
- work-related stress;
- perceived workplace pressure (from senior managers, line managers and colleagues) to attend work when unwell.
The findings from the research suggest that presenteeism can act as an indicator of employee health and wellbeing, with higher levels of presenteeism signalling poorer health and wellbeing. On this basis, one of the key recommendations made by the report is for organisations to concentrate on health and wellbeing in the workplace as a whole, not just on absence management, as improving health and wellbeing will reduce both absenteeism and presenteeism.
This focus on employee health and wellbeing might include:
- health promotion initiatives such as advice about exercise and diet;
- being supportive, offering encouragement and being willing to talk to employees about their concerns, views or issues;
- allowing staff some control over how and when they work.
Calling the Health for Work Adviceline (0800 0 77 88 44 – www.health4work.nhs.uk) gives employers access to expert occupational health advice including guidance on staff health and wellbeing tailored to meet the exact requirements of each individual organisation. Callers to the Adviceline are given immediate guidance, an action plan, and signposting to other specialist providers, where applicable.