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Sick Workers at Work Worry Employers

More People Showing up Sick for Work, Raising Concern Among Employers

From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 1, 2006 -- As flu season begins, a new survey shows a growing number of employees are showing up for work ill rather than calling in sick, raising concerns among employers about spreading illness on the job.

The report shows 56% of employers say "presenteeism" -- when sick employees show up for work -- is a problem in their organization, up from 39% two years ago.

Harris Interactive conducted the survey, polling more than 300 human resource executives from U.S. companies and organizations in June/July 2006.

"Presenteeism can take a very real hit on the bottom line, although it is often unrecognized," says employment law analyst Brett Gorovsky, JD, of CCH, the human resources and law services firm that commissioned the survey.

"After all, the employee is at work," Gorovsky says in a news release. "But if he doesn’t feel well, he is not going to be as productive, and the quality of work will suffer.

"Meanwhile, he may be spreading illnesses to other employees, further adding to the problem. So the indirect costs are high, while often not captured," Gorovsky says.

Presenteeism Reveals Problems at Work

The researchers found many reasons employees don’t stay home to recuperate -- such as being overworked, considering themselves too devoted to the company, saving sick time for future use, and being discouraged by their employer from taking sick leave.

The survey showed the most commonly cited reasons for coming in sick were:

  • Having too much work/fear of missing deadlines (66%)
  • Not having anyone to cover the workload (56%)
  • Not wanting to use vacation time (50%)
  • Fear of being disciplined at work for taking sick time (46%)
  • Saving sick time for later in the year (41%)
  • Company loyalty (36%)
  • Company culture discourages taking sick days (25%).

Employee morale also may play a role in presenteeism problems. Researchers found that, despite having higher rates of unscheduled absences overall, companies with low morale also have more ill workers coming into work.

The survey showed 63% of organizations with poor/fair morale reported presenteeism as a problem, compared with 50% of those with good/very good moral.


Combating Presenteeism

According to the survey, most companies with a presenteeism problem are trying to combat it by sending sick employees home (62%), educating employees on the importance of staying at home when they are sick (46%), or giving employees the option of telecommuting when they are sick (22%).

A growing number of employers are also allowing workers to carry over unused sick time from one year to another (44% in 2006, compared with 38% in 2005).

"Employers need to be particularly careful that their policies are not encouraging the wrong behavior, which can be counterproductive to a healthy workforce and have costly consequences," says Gorovsky.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 01, 2006


SOURCES: "2006 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey," conducted by Harris Interactive among 326 human resource executives, June 28 –July 17, 2006. News release, CCH.

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