Have you ever found yourself fighting to stay awake or distracted during the workday because you failed to get a decent night’s sleep due to stress? Have you missed a deadline or made an error for a work project because of chronic pain or other symptoms that distracted or interrupted your work? Have you observed co-workers going through the motions in the workplace but not really “there” due to lingering illness, family or personal crises or some other physical or mental health issue? If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you may be seeing the results of “presenteeism.”
When you signed the contract or accepted the job offer for your job, it was reasonable for you and your employer to expect that you would bring high energy, full engagement and your best-self to the job each workday. However, every day brings changes and challenges that might impact your physical, mental and/or emotional ability to perform optimally at work and meet your and your employer’s performance expectations. Health economists use the term presenteeism to describe when an employee shows up for work but does not perform at full capacity due to a physical, mental or emotional condition. Unlike absenteeism that accounts for the costs associated with an employee absent from work, presenteeism is often more prevalent and costly from both employee and employer perspectives. It has been estimated that the costs associated with presenteeism is 10 times greater than costs of absenteeism.
“When an employee worked at 75% of their maximum productivity level, the result was a loss of three months of productivity”
According to a study by Global Corporate Challenge (GCC), employees take an average of four sick days per year but admitted to being unproductive an average of 57.5 days per year (Smith, Sandy, “Presenteeism Costs Business 10 Times More than Absenteeism,” EHS Today, March 16, 2016). Dr. Olivia Sackett who conducted the study, used the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Workplace Health and Productivity Questionnaire (HPQ) to validate results of her study that showed when an employee worked at 75% of their maximum productivity level, the result was a loss of three months of productivity. The annual financial costs of absenteeism in the US is approximately $150 billion dollars. However, the annual costs of employees who came to work but were not fully productive – presenteeism – is $1,500 billion, ten times the cost of absenteeism.
Presenteeism has the potential to significantly impact the productivity and function of a workplace. The impacts can be damaging and devastating to a business, organization and the employees who contribute to the success of that business and depend on it for income and professional gratification. Employers need to not only recognize the effects of presenteeism but should proactively take steps to minimize causes of presenteeism wherever possible. Employers should consider the benefits of providing worksite wellness programs, such as Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less, that include and promote stress management, physical activity, healthy eating, primary prevention and offer chronic disease management, EAP services and access to mental health services. Such programs can greatly reduce the productivity and financial costs of presenteeism.
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