Presenteeism Part I: What is it?

b loehr - presentWhile absenteeism is a growing and costly problem across the American workforce, a mounting body of evidence suggests an even bigger problem has emerged in recent years: presenteeism.

Presenteeism is defined as the loss of productivity that arises when a worker is on the job but for a variety of reasons, is not fully functioning. It could be a medical condition, emotional distress, or a family issue that leaves the worker distracted and unable to fully perform his or her job tasks. It’s estimated that these sometimes unapparent, productivity-robbing situations can cut individual productivity by one-third or more. Unlike the obvious absence when an employee doesn’t show up for work, all is thought to be well when the employee is physically present.

Presenteeism may be more prevalent during tough economic times when an employee can’t afford to miss out on the income or fears losing his or her job. Chronic conditions such as arthritis, allergies, or a plethora of other maladies or situations can present a continuous threat to productivity. It’s true that if every employee stayed home each time a chronic condition or emotional distress flared up, nothing would get accomplished. Still, the issue warrants further study in an effort to lessen the decrease in productivity.

It’s both helpful and important to distinguish between malingering—pretending to be ill, goofing off, surfing the web instead of working—and true physical and emotional issues. “Slacking off” can and should be dealt with swiftly, in accordance with company policies.  But it’s doubtful the handbook contains the precise course of action to take when it comes to legitimate, all be it disruptive, presenteeism.

As researchers continue to gather conclusive findings, more companies are recognizing the problem of presenteeism and facing the challenge it presents. As with any problem, the first step toward resolution is acknowledging the issue exists. As this is a relatively new area of study, questions abound, the central one being the exact degree to which various illnesses and conditions reduce productivity.

The good news is researchers are discovering reliable ways to determine that. A number of survey tools are available to measure both absenteeism and presenteeism. Two commonly used resources are the  Health and Work Performance Questionnaire (HPQ) and the Work Limitations Questionnaire (WLQ). The feedback garnered from these questionnaires will help determine the existence of the problem and establish a baseline from which to improve.

Due to its silent nature, presenteeism can be harder to monitor and more difficult to address than absenteeism. Next week’s blog – Presenteeism Part II – will tackle ways to diminish the production-robbing effects of presenteeism.

Because we care about our clients, B Loehr provides pertinent HR information through our blog. It’s just one of the ways we aim to please. Whether your company is dealing with absenteeism, presenteeism, or other issues hindering your productivity, contact B Loehr. We will match you with top notch Field Associates who know how to get the job done.

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