By Joe Harker
There's not much worse at work than a colleague whose never around. Whether it be due to illness, seemingly endless holidays or strategically timed toilet breaks there's a few people around the office who never seem to be at their desks. Absenteeism is a major problem for companies.
However, being at work come rain, shine or global thermonuclear war isn't the best of things either. The other side of the coin to absenteeism is presenteeism, people who are always about and at work when they really ought to be off ill.
Maybe they're trying to prove a point about themselves or insist they're not that ill. Perhaps they've got a beady eyed boss who just won't let anyone take time off. They might even be one of those types to come down the the bubonic plague and stagger into work anyway so they can get crow about how great they are on LinkedIn.
The BBC reports that presenteeism is on the rise, citing a study by Vitality that found people were ignoring physical and mental health problems to make it into work.
Coming into work with an illness is bad enough since you might spread it to someone, but insisting on making it into the office a physical injury or mental health issue can put you at even greater risk, particularly the latter.
Too many workplaces have been infected with a culture of being seen to work hard, which has translated into being seen at work as often as possible. People who should be taking time off and would otherwise be getting the rest and support they need are ending up in work to avoid incurring the wrath of jobsworth managers who think not turning up is worse than showing up in no state to work.
Presenteeism is killing productivity. According to Forbes it does more damage to a business than absence due to illness or disability. Time off means you're not getting any work done, presenteeism means you not getting any work done affects everyone around you.
Whether by spreading illness or lagging behind in workload presenteeism causes more problems than illness enforced absence. You're either going to make more people sick or leave them waiting on you to complete your work, something you'll be struggling with because you shouldn't really have been there.
That's just the day to day problems of presenteeism, the long term costs are far worse as mental health problems are exacerbated while illness or injury isn't given sufficient time to recover.
The Counter Claim:
Praseeda Nair argues that there are some benefits to presenteeism, writing that it means employees who aren't at 100 per cent don't use it as an excuse to take time off when they're well enough to work.
She cites research from the Institute for Employment Studies that says there are some plus sides to the growing culture of presenteeism. Their report states that for some people a good job can be a welcome part of the daily routine and have "genuinely therapeutic benefits".
They argue that bosses should make their places of work more welcoming and less foreboding to return to, suggesting that cutting out the pressured environment of the workplace would make presenteeism a better thing as it meant people felt they could return to work sooner without the mental pressure to rush.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that 83 per cent of working people had noticed presenteeism starting to pervade their place of work and 25 per cent saying things had got much worse over the past year.
In the US the economic cost of presenteeism is considered to be over $150 billion each year, a much higher cost than absenteeism or disabilities. Meanwhile, the UK economy loses around $21.2 billion each year due to presenteeism, whereas it loses $11.8 billion annually to absenteeism. Honestly, if you're ill and shouldn't be working then don't go into work to try and force yourself into being productive. It's not worth it.
You should also watch out for "leavism", the employee trend of using scheduled time off to work and forgoing holidays to ensure they're always available.