According to an article in the December 26th Health & Fitness section of The New York Times, ailing employees are dragging themselves into work in record numbers. Instead of staying home to nurse their cold, flu or virus, employees are working right through their illnesses and, in the process, infecting their peers. They do so either because they’re incredibly dedicated or incredibly afraid of losing their job.
The syndrome has become so widespread that researchers have even developed a name for it: ‘presenteeism" as opposed to "absenteeism.’
According to a National Foundation for Infectious Diseases study, more than one-third of workers say they feel pressured to go to work by their employers. Another survey taken of human resource managers revealed that 59 percent believed presenteeism had become a problem in their offices.
Speaking from experience, I can tell you presenteeism is a huge problem at Peppercom (and, it’s not because we pressure anyone to come to work).
Some of our employees come to the office when they shouldn’t and quickly spread their germs to unsuspecting co-workers. It’s a phenomenon that routinely decimates our workforce population at least twice annually.
We’ve tried to take steps to change employees’ mindset: for example, we encourage them to stay home and/or send them packing if we catch them hacking, sneezing or wheezing in the middle of meetings.
According to the Times, presenteeism occurs because many companies refuse to provide sick leave for employees. In my mind, that’s being penny wise and pound foolish. I’ve seen the havoc one sick employee can have on the overall productivity of our firm.
Happily, Congress is planning to step in and require employers with 15 or more workers to provide seven days a year of paid sick leave. That’s a step in the right direction, but the onus is on employees as well. If you’re not well, stay home. Infecting others reflects poorly on you and on the firm. What seems like dedication on the surface can quickly become destructive if the germs that are spread within the petri dish that is most office environments end up impacting overall productivity and morale.
I know I speak for most enlightened employers when I say, ‘stay at home and get well. The business can manage without you.’