Presenteeism is when a worker attends work despite having a sickness or work affecting injury. There is a psychological urge to attend work when they know they are not in a fit state to do so. But why is this bad for organisations?
Presenteeism has financial and resource cost implications for organisations. In some cases, these implications are costlier than the worker going on sickness absence leave in the first instance. Presenteeism can cause workers to be less productive than normal, have a lower morale, and become fatigued more easily as they are experiencing different bodily effects on top of their sickness or injury symptoms. The accumulation of some of these effects can lead to mental ill health and negative wellbeing.
Related to presenteeism is another form of unrequired work attendance known as ‘leavism’. This is when workers use annual leave and scheduled time off (e.g. lieu days and regular days off) to complete work or make themselves ‘always available’. This too can lead to mental ill health and negative wellbeing effects.
Workers subject themselves to work demands and pressures by not separating themselves from their job which has connotations on their work-life balance. This can not only increase work-related stress for an individual; it can integrate and interfere with their personal life.
Five harmful effects of presenteeism and leavism are summarised below:
- Higher financial or resource costs for organisations when more workers are off on sickness absence due to the spread of pathogens
- Potential increases in stress and mental ill health for those who attend work when sick or injured
- Increased probability of fatigue, low morale and impaired cognitive and physical function of the individual who is sick, injured or partaking in leavism
- Potential increases in recovery time for those who are sick or injured which has further cost implications for the organisation
- Potential negative consequences on both workplace and personal life wellbeing such as:
- Mental and physical fatigue
- Low morale
- Reductions in physical activity
- Poor sleep and sleep disturbances
- The use of addictive substances or activities (recreational drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc)
- Cognitive and behavioural changes
- Poor nutritional eating habits.
Recovery from illness is vitally important. If workers are unable to fully recover from sickness away from the workplace, pathogens can be passed to other colleagues. This can lead to further sickness absence throughout the workforce which will have more financial and resource implications for the organisation.