A problem more disruptive and costly than absenteeism, "presenteeism" occurs when contagiously sick employees show up for work. For one, productivity plummets when employees aren't feeling well enough to perform their duties. But an even greater concern is that these employees can infect their coworkers—not to mention clients. Team members who are coughing, sneezing, sweating, and surrounded by mounds of tissues usually don't fool anyone, even when they insist that they're "fine."
According to a recent Harris Interactive survey, 56 percent of employers report that presenteeism is a problem in their organization, up from 39 percent two years earlier. The reasons that sick employees push themselves to go to work are varied. Dedicated team members don't want to let their boss or coworkers down. Others are concerned about losing a day's pay or missing out on incentive programs that encourage perfect attendance. Some want to avoid guilty feelings that can arise from calling in sick.
A 2005 Commerce Clearing House survey asked employers what they do to reduce presenteeism. Here's what they said:
These policies can result in understaffing, but cross-training your employees (see page 22 of the March issue) is one solution. If your team is cross-trained, you can quickly plug critical gaps without calling in temporary workers, running up overtime costs, or shortchanging client service.
62 percent send sick employees home.
41 percent educate employees on the importance of staying home when sick.
36 percent try to foster a culture that discourages sick employees from coming to work.
Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Bob Levoy is a speaker and writer based in Roslyn, N.Y. His newest book is 222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices (Jones and Bartlett, 2007).