Montreal researchers study the phenomenon of “presenteeism”

Going to work when sick is not always the most productive option, study shows

It’s a familiar sight once the temperatures drop and the official “cold” season starts: Workplaces filled with employees sporting runny noses, a hacking cough or horrible congestion.

The question is, why do people go to work when they are sick? Are they insecure about their jobs or are they workplace troopers?

A new study from Concordia University, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, has found that presenteeism, i.e. attending work when ill, isn’t always a productive option.

While some workers seem to be able to overcome their symptoms and be fully functional, others tend to be present solely in person, but not in true form.

Caregivers, educators and team workers often present when sick

Caregivers and people working in early education, for example, report higher rates of presenteeism compared to people from other fields.

“Often, a person might feel socially obligated to attend work despite illness,” says study author Gary Johns, a management professor at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business, “while other employees feel organizational pressure to attend work despite medical discomfort.”

The study followed 444 people for 6 months, and the participants reported an average of three presenteeism days as opposed to 1.8 absenteeism days due to illness.

Presenteeism was elevated among workers engaged in interdependent projects or teamwork. Those who were insecure about their jobs also engaged in more presenteeism.

The study author says that many organizations and businesses could spend more attention to the cost of presenteeism.

“Estimating the cost of absenteeism is more tangible than counting the impact of presenteeism,” says Johns. “Yet a worker’s absence — or presence — during illness can have both costs and benefits for constituents.”

The importance of indoor air quality at the workplace

Poor IAQ can have a detrimental effect on workers’ well-being, productivity and health.

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