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Looking to Improve Your Business? Don’t Let Your Employees Come to Work When Sick

We all know about absenteeism, but it’s presenteeism that looms as a big threat for companies.

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BY Julian Hayes II - 31 Jan 2019

improve business with sick leave

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

When it comes to companies assessing the workforce and their bottom line, a big area that they look into is productivity. Specifically, employee absenteeism.

While employee absenteeism can certainly be a drainer to a companies budget, there's another area that is discreetly draining the budget--employee presenteeism.

Presenteeism is where an employee shows up to work, but isn't at their peak performing state due to a myriad of reasons. Employee presenteeism isn't as easy to quantify and define as employee absenteeism is due to fewer research studies on the subject.

However, there was a year-long telephone survey of nearly 29,000 working professionals in a study titled the "American Productivity Audit" appearing in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine back in 2003. In this study, the calculated cost of employee presenteeism in the U.S. was found to be more than $225 billion per year and 71 percent of that was caused by low productivity.

Why is employee presenteeism on the rise?

If the numbers were that high over a decade ago, you can imagine how high they are now. However, pinpointing the issue to one area isn't possible since it's a multi-factorial issue.

However, there is one glaring area and that is management. According to a 2013 State of the American Manager report, managers accounted for at least 70 percent of employee engagement scores.

To break this down further, having a bad manager is going to hit you from all angles and affect all areas of your life. While at work, employees will feel miserable and less motivated by the bad manager. And once the work day is over, employees will take this negative feeling home, further compounding stress and making them prone to less-than-ideal health choices.

While leaders can directly cause an uptick in presenteeism, other issues such as job security fears, unpaid time when away, life issues such as caregiving, heavy workload, and fear of judgment from coworkers are factors that can't be forgotten.

Employee presenteeism isn't going to be completely eradicated, but implementing these three measures below can dramatically start to reduce cost while boosting employees morale.

1. Revisit your sick pay policy.

At some companies, employees are rewarded for perfect attendance. While this seems like a good idea, there's an underlying issue at stake, which is encouraging employees to show up sick. It's bad enough to have a sick employee around the office, but it magnifies due to how contagious and easy germs can spread.

The flu virus can survive on a steel surface for 24 hours. If an employee touches that surface and doesn't wash his or her hands afterward and then eats, there's a high likelihood for infection. One person shows up sick and there's a good chance two people will start to show symptoms. It doesn't take long to have a large number of employees who are in a less than ideal state of performance.

2. Investigate why employees are disengaged.

Sometimes your staff members aren't sick nor fatigued, they're simply disconnected from the company.

Is the disconnect from being overworked, lack of acknowledgment, boredom, in need of new challenges, or an issue with time? A simple way to find out is to send satisfaction surveys that are anonymous. This allows you to get honest feedback toward your particular issue.

3. Infuse the company culture with wellness.

Unfortunately, many people wait to act once the sickness arrives. But, the best defense lies in a good prevention strategy. Small and practical initiatives can make a world of difference in your employees well being and engagement.

When the upcoming flu season is arriving, providing educational materials, access to flu shots, and healthy food options is a way to keep employees feeling healthy, happy, and most importantly at work and engaged.

Employee presenteeism isn't clearly defined yet, but even with a narrative that has more story to come, the impact it's having on companies can't be overlooked.

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