Do you congratulate yourself for surviving to work regardless of a migraine that was hammering in the back of your head? Do you feel proud of not taking sick leave and working hard, no matter what? Well, you shouldn’t. Going to work despite an illness is quite likely to cost your employer more than sick leave.

Employers’ enemy — absenteeism — has a sibling called presenteeism. And it shouldn’t be ignored. Not only for financial reasons, but also for employees’ health.

Not absent, but not present

Presenteeism occurs when an employee goes to work suffering conditions that prevent him or her from fully functioning. Presenteeism causes productivity loss, poorer health, increased likelihood of accidents, increased absenteeism in the future, and can cause epidemics when unwell employees spread their germs in the workplace.

Burnout presenteeism stress
An unwell employee shows up but is not really present.

Creativity drops down, and so does productivity. Depending on the illness, it will probably get worse without proper rest and treatment and will lead to longer sick leave than was needed in the first place. Also, high stress and presenteeism often walk hand in hand: people who are distressed are more prone to presenteeism.

I’m raising my hands up; I’m guilty. I’ve dragged myself to work in bad shape just to get kicked back home by my colleagues, secretly feeling like a decent employee. And I’ve seen many friends and colleagues repeating the same pattern. Live and learn.

It comes down to pressure

The need to be present can derive from various reasons. Working culture in an organization can be so powerful and motivating that employees want to work above and beyond, or it can be so negative, that people are afraid of taking sick leave.

Some people feel so irreplaceable in their jobs that they think they’re obligated to go to work, and others can’t financially afford to take a day off. In all of these cases, people usually feel pressured to be at work in spite of their illness.

Organization, working culture, and supervisors have the most significant role in preventing and decreasing presenteeism. The first step is to recognize the problem and admit that employees are working without their full capacity. Employers should develop a policy on presenteeism and absenteeism, and educate their employees about it.

Employers’ encouragement to focus on health and well-being, as well as an example that managers present are important aspects. So is sending sick employees home, or allowing them to work remotely. Here’s one list for employers to go through to manage presenteeism.

Stress and presenteeism are a vicious circle

When a stressed-out person keeps pushing forward and doesn’t manage his stress at all, at some point his body will force the break. If he continues working with poorer health and lower productivity, his stress and overall condition are likely to get worse. An extended sick leave starts to look inevitable. If only he reacted earlier! Taking a mental health day starts to sound like a good idea.

Could health-tracking and digital health solutions provide some help to cope with presenteeism and absenteeism? Wearable health technology and mobile apps are growing quickly, and people are becoming more health conscious than ever. If our mind is stubborn and we don’t believe that it’s time to stay home and heal ourselves, maybe we’ll believe our stress-monitoring devices or other health-tracking solutions that will tell us the harsh truth.

Cortisol Stress Management Burnout
Monitor your stress levels on phone.

As an eternal optimist, I believe that more information and better knowledge will lead to better decisions.

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Presenteeism Causes Employee Burnout

For quite some time now, it has been well recognized how bad absenteeism has been for a company's productivity. And rightly so, many companies have come up with strategies to deal with the ill-effect of absenteeism. On the other hand, presenteeism is relatively a new phenomenon to be recognized, and therefore it is often overlooked. Unlike absenteeism, presenteeism is very challenging to identify making it even more difficult to tackle.