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Presenteeism is killing your business

A recent study suggests that staff coming in to work when they are unwell, known as presenteeism, could have its own hidden costs

Employees coming into work sick might be harming your business more than you realise. It seems as though every week we are bombarded with figures showing just how much staff absences cost businesses. A recent study, however, suggests that staff coming in to work when they are unwell, known as presenteeism, could have its own hidden costs.

Research carried out by Concordia University and The University of East Anglia (UEA) set out to find out why employees feel so much pressure to show up to the office even when they should be tucked up in bed.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, found that for some the compulsion is the result of a positive pressure, stemming from high job satisfaction and commitment to their organisation.

For others the motivation is less positive, and is born of a fear of being discriminated against by colleagues who have had to shoulder the burden of work in their absence, as well as the worry that their job security might be affected by a perceived lack of dedication.

Strict absence policies were also found to deter employees from taking sick days. In some cases a run of absences can trigger severe disciplinary measures while other organisations demand doctor’s notes after just a few short days away from work.

While employers might be happy to see employees’ devotion to their jobs, and happier still to avoid paying for cover, previous studies have found that sick employees’ performance rates are often low in the short term, and could continue to be affected in the long term.

It seems that showing up for work when sick could prolong illness and affect employees’ general well-being and attitude to their work, ultimately resulting in more absenteeism in the future and greater productivity loss than if they had simply stayed at home in the first place.

So how can employers put a stop to this cycle, and boost the well-being of their employees as well as their businesses? Dr. Mariella Miraglia, lead author of the UEA and Concordia study and a lecturer in organisational behaviour at UEA’s Norwich Business School, has advised that employers reduce sickness within their organisation by making wellness and health programmes available to their employees.

While this is a positive start, it is clearly unlikely that sickness can be entirely eradicated, so what else can organisations do to reduce the negative effects of presenteeism in the event of staff illness?

The study found that employees with good relationships with their managers were less likely to come into work when unwell, as they didn’t fear negative repercussions. This suggests that investing time and energy into encouraging good rapport between colleagues could boost more than just morale.

Ultimately, however, Dr Miraglia suggested that controlling the demands of each employee’s role should be the first line of defence. By reducing employees’ exposure to excessive workload, tight deadlines and overtime, employers can keep their staff and their business in the pink.

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