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Sick employees coming to work? Employers' concerns increase

Presenteeism occurs when employees show up to work even though they are ill, only to demonstrate decreased levels of productivity and to place coworkers at risk of contracting their illnesses. Because sick employees can weaken the corporate bottom line, employers’ concern about them is quickly growing.

The 2006 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey revealed an eight percent jump in the number of organizations that view presenteeism as a problem. In 2006, 56 percent of organizations reported presenteeism to be a problem—up from 48 percent in 2005 and 39 percent in 2004. Conversely, 44 percent reported that it is not a problem—down from 52 percent in 2005.

Morale affects presenteeism rates, too. The CCH survey makes it clear that workplace morale matters. When it comes to presenteeism, the results aren’t any different. Despite higher rates of unscheduled absenteeism overall, companies with low morale also have more ill workers showing up for work. In fact, 63 percent of organizations with poor/fair morale reported presenteeism is a problem, while only 50 percent of organizations with good/very good morale see it as an issue.

Well over half of survey respondents (62 percent) who think presenteeism is a problem combat the issue by sending sick employees home. Forty-one percent choose to educate employees on the importance of staying home when they are sick, while 36 percent are fostering a culture that discourages coming to work sick. Twenty-seven percent are attempting to create flexibility for sick employees by either permitting employees to telecommute when they are sick (22 percent) or giving employees an unlimited number of sick days (five percent).

The first step in combating any workplace problem is understanding why it occurs in the first place. Two-thirds of responding companies (66 percent) believe employees come to work when they are ill because they have "too much work to do/deadlines." In addition, when asked, "Why do you think that some employees come to work even when they are ill?" survey respondents replied:

Be careful not to inadvertently encourage presenteeism. The CCH survey revealed a growing concern that some traditional absence control and sick policies may inadvertently encourage employee presenteeism. Organizations that adhere to traditional sick-time policies and take disciplinary action to enforce them may be making it difficult for employees to do the right thing. If, for example, an organization allows each employee five sick days a year and takes disciplinary action on the sixth day of absence, an employee who has been wiped out with the flu for several days early in the year may choose to come to work ill rather than risk the discipline.

For additional information on this and other HR topics, consult CCH Human Resources Management or Personnel Practices/Communications.

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