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What is presenteeism?
  • Presenteeism refers to lost productivity due to illness, fatigue, or other conditions that inhibit peak performance.
  • Employers can use anonymous questionnaires to gather information on common conditions affecting employees.
  • Addressing presenteeism positively affects the company’s bottom line.

Absenteeism refers to lost productivity when employees don’t report for work, while presenteeism refers to lost productivity due to illness, fatigue, or other conditions that keep employees from working at peak performance. Perhaps managers overhear employees say things like:

  • I can’t get ahead with this workload.
  • This headache is killing me.
  • I’m feeling stressed out.

The most common causes of presenteeism include:

  • Allergies
  • Migraines
  • Asthma
  • Depression

Often, the symptoms aren’t serious enough for an employee to stay home. However, these conditions can distract employees, reduce productivity, and lead to increased accidents. Fortunately, the company can take steps to help the afflicted employees by using anonymous questionnaires that might include “distracted worker” factors during health risk assessments. The goal is not to identify “slackers,” but to try and learn how many workers suffer from common conditions, how often they have symptoms, how many hours they were affected by each condition in the last two weeks, and how many days they were affected in the last year. The list of conditions might include:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Back/Neck pain
  • Depression
  • Fatigue/Low energy
  • Migraine/Headache
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Alcohol use/Substance abuse

Targeting issues with the most hours or most days of lost productivity will show the largest return on investment. For example, if numerous employees report migraines, the company might offer a seminar on the causes, symptoms, and treatments for migraines. Treatments and counseling are also available for conditions like sleep disorders, asthma, and depression. In addition, the employee assistance program (EAP) may have resources available.

Some employees might have been suffering for years. They may have never told their personal physician, and they might be reluctant to seek help. Bringing up the issue and making employees think about the impact on their health and work can encourage them to do so, and letting them know that their condition is not unusual and that confidential help is available can give them the confidence to help themselves.

Strategies that offer self-help or self-care options allow employees some control over their treatment, which usually increases participation and helps reduce costs. An EAP or health care provider should be able to provide suggestions on what to offer.

Healthier employees are generally happier and more productive. Many will appreciate the employer’s concern for their well-being. Also, these screenings can identify potentially serious conditions before they fully develop, which can reduce health insurance and medical costs. When these savings are combined with increased productivity and reduced accidents, addressing presenteeism positively affects the company’s bottom line.