Written by Dave Cullen
The effects of absenteeism in any workplace can be clearly demonstrated. Employees who are forced to take a day off work due to illness obviously impact on productivity. However new research conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reveals that presenteeism, the act of coming to work despite being quite ill, could potentially be far more costly for employers.
Speaking with Matt Cooper on The Last word, Director of Careers Register, Lisa Holt gave her views on this startling phenomenon. “I’m certainly familiar with people coming into their workplace when they’re not well, maybe to prove a point, to ensure they don’t let people down, perhaps in some cases out of fear”. Lisa believes that the recession has forced people to consider the consequences of taking sick days; particularly when so many companies are looking at making staff cuts. “I think a lot of people have a fear of calling their boss to say they’re not going to be there. They’re concerned about the link that will be broken with them not being there – letting their team down. They keep going and going and going.”
Lisa says it is about quality not quantity and unfortunately when someone comes in unwell they may spread their sickness to their colleagues and potentially cause significant workplace disruption. “People do come into the office unwell and of course there would be the fear of passing on germs, but in the main, people who are really sick end up having to go home anyway. It tends to be if one person is sick in a team, six people get sick”.
In Lisa’s opinion one of the main ways an employer can determine if an employee is being genuine about their illness is “intuition and listening”. She believes employers must take the time to listen to the person and be open and frank with them. They should check in with them when they return the next day to confirm they are all right. “Over the years I’ve asked people ‘are you really sick? Have you had a few drinks last night?’ and suddenly the truth comes out”.
The main reason workplace presenteeism has been perpetuated is fear of losing one’s job. “For those companies that are looking at redundancies, of course that must be a fear. I just feel that in the main, people who are unwell and genuinely unwell, should be paid for not being there. The problem is that stress can often be linked to illness so a manager must listen and make time for their employees who are unwell. Unfortunately it’s the people who have abused it in the past that may have ruined that in some companies for people. Everyone wants to do really, really well and it takes a very confident person to pick up the phone in a confident fashion and say ‘I’m not well, I’m not coming in, I’ll see you tomorrow when I’m better’”.