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Excessive Absenteeism Can Hobble Your Business, But Beware the Pitfalls of 'Presenteeism,' Too

Absenteeism due to illness obviously affects a company’s productivity and level of service to its customers, especially for a small business that has a small number of employees on the payroll to do the work in the first place. But employees who come into work when they’re sick may not be doing their employers much good, either. So-called “presenteeism” – employees dragging themselves into the workplace regardless of their health – can be just as harmful to the bottom line as absenteeism, perhaps even more so.

But because the effects of presenteeism can be much harder to see and measure than those of absenteeism, some business owners and managers may not realize the extent of the negative consequences that it can have. Anyone who has worked in human resources or payroll administration long enough has probably come across records of veteran employees who’ve racked up hundreds of hours of unused sick leave over their years of service. Some of these workers may be the type who proclaim that they’ve never been sick a day in their lives, but chances are most of them were under the weather from time to time and felt motivated to come into work anyway. Such people may be understandably hailed for their loyalty to the company, but there’s a good chance that their rigidly consistent attendance has had a downside, too – the spread of colds and flu to other employees.

The irony, of course, is that one infectious worker’s presenteeism can cause absenteeism among multiple co-workers who catch their bugs and who don’t have the same physical constitution or psychological motivation to keep working during an illness. And, the worker who does soldier on in spite of being sick is normally nowhere his or her normal level of productivity anyway – from the employer’s point of view, the employee might as well be home in bed.

The word presenteeism was coined in the 1980s with a somewhat different, more positive meaning, but by the mid-90s it came to mean, in a nutshell, the habit of showing up for work sick. Still, in the last two decades that it has been a business concept, presenteeism has not been studied anywhere nearly as extensively as absenteeism has. The main reason for the lack of attention to presenteeism is probably that its effects are more difficult to measure.

Still, some business researchers have attempted to study the bottom-line effects of presenteeism. A 2004 study by Cornell University and the health information company Medstat concluded that presenteeism might be responsible for as much as 60 percent of illness-related productivity losses among U.S. companies. That same year, a Harvard University study of Lockheed-Martin employees put the annual cost of presenteeism to that company at $34 million. In 2005, one business website estimated that the total cost of presenteeism to the U.S. economy was $150-250 billion and growing.

In one of the most recent pieces of research on presenteeism, conducted last year by a business management professor at Concordia University in Montreal, the 444 workers questioned for the study averaged 1.8 days off due to illness for a six-month period. For the same period, however, the same group of workers had come into work sick for an average of three days.

When employees fall ill, advanced payroll services like employee self-service payroll can be a convenient way for them to check sick leave accruals and log their time off. Padgett Payroll Services offers online payroll and other services that will increase the efficiency of your business. Call the professionals at Padgett Payroll Services today at (706) 548-1040 to learn more about the advantages of making us your company’s payroll specialist.

Do you have the support you need to manage your small business bookkeeping? Schedule a 30-minute appointment to speak with a local small business adviser.

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