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Why workers come to work sick

Study highlights why ill employees still clock in

Topics: Health and Wellness, Benefits, Labor Expense, Workforce, Absenteeism, Staffing, Health and Wellness, Benefits, Labor Expense, Finance, Absenteeism, Staffing

November 22, 2011

Why do staff clock in despite feeling under the weather? A recent study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology highlights several factors that might drive employee "presenteeism."

For the study, researchers at Canada-based Concordia University's John Molson School of Business surveyed 444 individuals about their job requirements, work experience, absenteeism, and presenteeism. Respondents reported an average of three presenteeism days and 1.8 absenteeism days over the previous six months, with illness accounting for most days off.

The findings showed that presenteeism is most common among employees working in teams or those who felt insecure about their jobs. In addition, the study found that caregivers had one of the highest rates of presenteeism compared with employees in other fields. "

Often, a person feels socially obligated to attend work despite illness, while other employees feel organizational pressure to attend work despite medical discomfort," lead study author Gary Johns says. He added that employees who feel secure in their jobs "don't fear retribution for an occasional absence because of sickness."

Meanwhile, absenteeism appeared to be more common among unionized workers and when unemployment rates are low.

Johns says employers and human resources departments traditionally have focused on absenteeism and directed few resources to combating presenteeism. "Estimating the cost of absenteeism is more tangible than counting the impact of presenteeism," Johns says, adding, "Yet a worker's absence—or presence—during illness can have both costs and benefits" (Infection Control Today, 11/17; Medical News Today, 11/21; Toronto Star, 11/17). 

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