For many employers, there has been an emphasis on managing absence-related costs. A critical component of attendance management that tends not be factored into the cost equation pertains to presenteeism. It is defined as the act of attending work while sick or the tendency to stay at work beyond the time needed for effective performance on the job and it is believed to be more costly than its well-studied counterpart, absenteeism.
According to Patricia Schaefer, a staff writer for Business Know-How, the total cost of presenteeism to US employers ranges between $150 and $250 billion annually. In Canada, presenteeism costs Canadian businesses $15-25 billion per year.
While some may believe that presenteeism relates to workers who are slacking off, it is more about workers who come to work with an illness that negatively affects their productivity and could potentially infect co-workers and even customers. Depending on the industry, infected employees who show up to work may seriously compromise the health and safety of the general public.
In 2004, an excellent article written by Paul Hemp for the Harvard Business Review highlighted the results of a study on presenteeism and the impact of 28 medical conditions on productivity at Lockheed Martin Corp. The big reveal was that employees who showed up to work with allergies, headaches, lower-back pain, arthritis and cold symptoms cost the company $34 million in one year. Surprisingly, allergies and sinus trouble weighed in at 1.8 million of the productivity drain.
There is a bit of a double-edged sword when employers try to address absenteeism; it can tend to drive up the incidence of presenteeism where productivity losses remain harder to quantify.
Here are five employer solutions to help address the rising cost of this all to often hidden employment issue:
1) If possible and if the organization is resourced accordingly, work with Human Resources professionals to train people leaders about the realities of presenteeism, its effects on productivity, how to recognize it, how to coach direct reports and manage the business so that work continues in a safe and healthy manner.
2) Create or update the absence management policy to include presenteeism. It is important for employees to understand the company's position on presenteeism and that coming to work sick can negatively impact others. When employees know the guidances and the employer's position, they will make better choices because they are clear on what is acceptable.
3) Allow for paid sick leave and avoid disciplinary action that pressures sick employees to come to work. Encourage employees to go home if they are sick or stay home without fear of compromising their employment contract or the view the company has of them as a good worker.
4) Remind employees about hand washing and ways to avoid spreading germs. Read my blog on tips for avoiding colds and flus for specific suggestions.
5) Promote wellness programs and health clinics where possible. Promote free flu clinics and help employees become aware of the symptoms, duration of contagion, and ways to reduce existing symptoms. Read my blog on workplace wellness trends for details.
Presenteeism doesn't drive up productivity or profits and employees shouldn't feel like they are doing something positive by coming into the workplace when they are unwell. From presenteeism policies to specific employee engagement tactics, there are many ways to foster a healthy workplace. Contact us for more ideas. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Dave Dickinson, B.Comm, CFP, CLU, CHFC
Experienced Benefits Specialist ready to optimize your group benefits and pension plans.