Presenteeism - is it Always a Bad Thing?

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Date: Sept. 6, 2013
From: Occupational Health(Issue 410)
Publisher: DVV Media International Ltd.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,759 words
Lexile Measure: 1400L

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Presenteeism - is it Always a Bad Thing?

Presenteeism is currently a hot topic. A survey by Canada Life Group Insurance in May 2013 suggested it is rising with 93% of staff questioned reporting that they have attended work while ill.

But presenteeism is still an emerging area of interest and one to which much less attention has been than sickness absence despite increasing evidence that it is costlier. This is because presenteeism is harder to identify, to define and measure, although probably not more difficult to manage.

So what is "presenteeism" and is it always a negative thing that should be avoided?


One of the problems of looking at the published literature is the many definitions used, suggesting that presenteeism is understood in different ways. This makes comparing studies and determining the underlying causes of presenteeism, difficult. Researchers have variously defined presenteeism as "showing up at work when sick", " being present at work but limited in some aspect of job performance by a health problem", " the measurable extent to which physical or psycho-social symptoms, conditions and disease adversely affect the work productivity of those who chose to remain in work", "working through illness and injury" and "going to work despite judging that one should have reported in sick". The latter definition may resemble the first but it differs by introducing the concept of individual decision making.

Overall, presenteeism is usually described in one of three broad ways. First, it is used to describe when people decide to go into work when they are " ill". This includes people who would like to take off but are unable to for a variety of reasons such as peer pressure, poor sick pay or fear of disciplinary action. Most would agree someone who is "ill" should not be at work as there maybe negative consequences for themselves (they may later be off for longer), their colleagues (who may catch colds, flu etc from them) or the "product/customer " (relevant in the food industry were ill health could result in contamination and in healthcare where quality of service to vulnerable patients could be affected). Being "ill" here is not the same as having "ill health" or a "health condition".

Secondly, the term is used to describe the impact on productivity of someone with ill health. People belonging to the group do not want to take time off. They may have health conditions but these do not unduly impact on their work, or the condition does affect their work but the person wishes to continue working for the positive benefits that work brings and is able to manage the condition...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A351382551