You’re familiar with absenteeism and its costs. Yet there is probably something going on in your workplace that’s even more costly than scheduled employees not reporting to work. It’s employees coming to the workplace, but they’re absent physically, emotionally and mentally from their work performance.
It’s a phenomenon called presenteeism. The typical present-but-absent employee is the one who drags herself to work, suffering from a serious head cold, and struggles through her job at only half speed.
Health care consultants AdvancePCS, in Irving, TX, has put the cost of presenteeism at $250 billion a year. That’s an average cost of $2,000 per employee. Most of this cost comes from reduced productivity caused by headache/pain, cold/flu, fatigue/depression, digestive problems and arthritis. Other health conditions that cause lower productivity include allergies, menstrual-related problems, dental problems and prescription drug side effects.
These conclusions came from interviews with 25,000 employees. The loss estimates were based on their incomes and estimates of time spent at work unproductively because of their maladies. The AdvancePCS study indicated 80 percent of women and 70 percent of men experience one or more of these health conditions — including fatigue — in any two-week period. The study found that 38 percent of women and 28 percent of men reported to work not feeling well at least once every two weeks.
But the costs could be even greater. That’s because there are causes of presenteeism that go beyond the physical illnesses identified in the AdvancePCS study. Employees also were absent-at-work because of such things as stress caused by downsizing, stress caused by excessive hours at work and stress caused by personal and family conflicts and emergencies.
In addition, presenteeism has an impact on safety-related issues. Employees who are to some degree present-but-absent are more likely to cause accidents, which increases the employers’ Workers’ Comp costs.
It’s obvious that what “presenteeism” means is “an employee at work when he or she should be at home or on vacation.”
Seven Ways to Reduce Presenteeism in Your Workplace
- Replace your vacation and sick leave policies with a Paid Time Off (PTO) policy, if you haven’t already done so. Include in your PTO policy the right of employees to accumulate and bank PTO hours for use in emergencies. Encourage your employees to use their PTO hours when they’re feeling sick or under stress. Unfortunately, many employees will drag themselves to work, suffering from a serious illness, so they can save their “sick leave” hours or PTO hours for that big family vacation they’re planning in two or three months.
- Require some employees to take their vacation or PTO hours. Some eager-beaver employees like to accumulate as many paid leave hours as possible and put off taking their paid leave. You may have to actually require these employees to take a leave from their jobs, from time to time.
- Have a flexible work schedule for those employees whose jobs permit this. Employees who have flexibility in their work times are more likely to stay home when they’re not feeling well, and then make up their work a day or two later.
- Reduce your reliance, and your employees’ reliance, on overtime hours. Adopt a schedule of work hours for your employees and help them to stick to the schedule, so that stress of long hours or irregular hours is reduced.
- Offer a good health insurance plan to your employees if you don’t already do so.
- Give your employees Employee Assistance Program benefits, which encourage and make it easier for employees to seek out help and counseling when they are experiencing personal or family stress. Large employers can contract with employee assistance program organizations that offer these services. Smaller employers can at least set up a referral system to make it easier for their employees to find the available sources of help in their community.
- Set an example. Executives, managers and supervisors need to stop pushing themselves beyond the limits. Leaders need to show employees that it’s acceptable not to report to work when they’re sick or under great stress.