Working while unwell—known as presenteeism—is more prevalent than employers might think. According to a recent study by The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), presenteeism has more than tripled since 2010, and only 25% of organisations are taking steps to discourage it. It’s important for employers to consider how best to manage presenteeism in the workplace.
Factors that might cause employees to work while unwell include job insecurity, a high workload or strict attendance policies. In the short term, presenteeism can benefit a company that may initially see less reduction in productivity. However, as continual presenteeism can impact an employees’ overall well-being—increasing the chance of adverse health events such as cardiovascular disease, anxiety and depression—any short-term benefits will soon be outweighed by longer-term absenteeism.
Additionally, a worker performing while unwell is more likely to make mistakes. Presentee pharmacists made significantly more mistakes, such as dispensing errors, compared to nonpresentee pharmacists, according to a study by Niven and Ciborowska. Mistakes are costly to an organisation, so consider these steps for a healthy workforce:
- Shift the culture. Feeling real or imagined pressure to come to work when ill reduces employee morale and negatively impacts physical and mental well-being. An organisation’s culture should shift towards valuing both work and employee health equally.
- Overhaul policies. Punitive sick leave policies can do more harm than good as they may discourage employees from taking leave when they need to. Reviewing policies or adding new ones—such as mental health support and burnout prevention—is a sensible step.
- Consider flexible working. Allowing employees with a long-term illness to adjust their working patterns may decrease presenteeism. Remote working or changing the times or hours worked may allow employees to optimise their productivity while supporting their health.
- Lead by example. Managers must be approachable and supportive, regularly asking staff about their well-being. To lead by example, they should take time off when sick, actively showing that they promote good health.
A simple change in attitude costs nothing to an organisation but can go a long way in preventing presenteeism and promoting good health in the workplace.
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