Presenteeism: The cost of having sick employees at work

ManagementOctober 16, 2020 18:08

Written by Max Loong, Senior Career Advisor

The rise in working from home arrangements due to the coronavirus seems likely to be a permanent practise for some organisations. While this brings many benefits to both employees and employers, it’s also possible to lead to instances of Presenteeism – employees working while being unwell.

Although it might be seen to some as a commitment to their work, it is definitely not good for employees and businesses in the long run. In this blog, we detail the issue of Presenteeism, how it poses a risk to companies, and how to prevent such working culture.


The issue of Presenteeism

Singaporeans clocked one of the longest working hours in the world – In 2017, we worked an average of 45 hours per week. While some may take it as a positive sign that we’re among the most hardworking people around, is that really something worth recognising ourselves for?

The idea of presenteeism could be a cultural tendency – especially apparent in Asian countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan – where you’re sometimes encouraged to develop a sense of association with your colleagues. Employees may feel like they need to constantly make their presence felt (to show face), to avoid facing negative consequences from taking sick leave.

This is apparent with workers in Singapore who mentioned that it was normal to see unwell colleagues at work, citing worries such as:

  • Confronting a backlog of work
  • Having colleagues covering their duties
  • Risk of losing monetary rewards for taking sick leave
  • Risk of poor performance appraisal ratings

And this continues to be the case even with work from home arrangements.

The workplace practice of Presenteeism is evidently a lose-lose game. For employees, not tending to illnesses poses a risk of multiple physical health risks in the future. Sickness presenteeism also has an effect on their psychological well-being as well – impacting their decision-making ability and reducing their productivity at work.

For employers, presenteeism can create direct and indirect costs for you and your organisation. Research conducted by the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore found that presenteeism can cost employers $12.1 billion per year. Going through this vicious cycle with pressure to work while unwell, leading to a decrease in productivity levels, employees will find themselves unsatisfied with their work and diminish his/her company loyalty. Losing valuable talents, especially ones that produce results due to outdated company practices does not sound like a winning deal.


Having healthy, happy employees is good business

Employees are one of the most valuable assets of an organisation, and allowing them to work at their potential will definitely be a win-win.

Communication is critical to tackling the occurrence of presenteeism. Educating every employee about your organisation’s leave policy and debunking any perceptions that this leave shouldn’t be taken. In addition, employers should consistently communicate and understand your employee’s different needs and work circumstances. If employees believe that their employer is thoughtful of their needs, employees can work free from fear of discipline and undertake their work duties without diminishing productivity.


The Bottom Line

Creating a work environment where employees at all levels feel safe to discuss their needs for flexibility is key to being aware of and reducing presenteeism within your organisation. With employee wellbeing being central to their satisfaction and engagement at work, placing value on this will ensure you’re a forward-thinking and responsive employer.


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