Time to get serious about presenteeism

Applauding an employee for never taking a sick day should not be cause for a pat on the back – that worker’s physical presence is the workplace may have come at hefty price.

Time to get serious about presenteeism

The days of congratulating workers for soldiering on in the face of illness are numbered – studies now definitely suggest healthy workers are more productive workers.

While absenteeism has traditionally been seen as the root of all productivity problems, the experts say a much bigger problem is presenteeism – when an employee comes to work in ill health and does not work at full capacity.

Research from Australian healthcare provider Medibank showed that an average of 6.5 working days of annual productivity is lost per employee. “Employers have the ability to reduce presenteeism rates, thereby improving productivity and, in the long-term, generate a positive impact on their business bottom line,” Dr Matthew Cullen from Medibank Health Solutions said. He added that the problem urgently needs to be addressed, as employees who work when ill are more prone to injury and, if contagious, increase the risk of passing on an illness to other employees.

In order to minimise further negative effects to businesses and the economy, Medibank said investments need to be made in the health of staff, so that employers can reduce presenteeism rates, productivity and, in the long term, generate an overall positive impact on business.

The research identified steps to address presenteeism and improve their employee’s productivity, including:

  1. Awareness
    Be aware of the problem and the economic impact of health conditions on business and the Australian economy.
  2. Identification
    Get to know particular health issues affecting employees, so a company can design better programs to improve their health.
  3. Education
    Educate employees to ensure that illnesses are not going undiagnosed. Also, provide employees with access to information on lifestyle management, to prevent and manage illnesses.

Then, invest in developing strategies to support and improve their employees’ health and wellbeing. These include:

  1. Health risk assessments to help employees identify conditions that may cause future health problems.
  2. Employee assistance programs which offer counselling services for employees and their families.
  3. Wellness programs which foster healthy practices, such as consuming a balanced diet and regularly exercising.

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