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How Presenteeism affects workplace health and safety

Martin Castilla            No comments            Apr, 3

When it comes to developing strong and productive working habits, getting the right balance is crucial for managing employees well from a health and safety perspective. In many Anglo/western societies there exists a culture of ‘presentism’. Defined by many experts as the phenomenon of employees staying at work when they shouldn’t be. This can be due to several factors including stress, job insecurity and illness. All of these and more can have a big impact on the health and safety of a workforce.

Why do employees exhibit presentism in their workplaces?

Presentism can be a factor in a workplace for several reasons and it is an aspect of working life that is notoriously difficult to change. One of the reasons many decide to come into work when they are not up to it is because they feel pressurized into it. This can be due to several reasons and the pressure may come from top-level management, employees, or the general culture of the organisation.

Other employees may also feel guilty if they do not come to work, even if they are not up to it. This is one of the most reported reasons for presentism in the workplace. Whilst it may appear productive to work even when ill in the short run, it can have some serious long term health consequences.

What are the health and safety dangers of presentism?

With the rise in the focus on mental health, many are starting to wake up to the very real issues that presentism can have in the workplace.

  • Prolongment of the ailment in question

One of the big problems that can occur when workers come into work when they are ill is that it can often lead to a determination of their condition. This can not only worsen their health but can also lead to long term reduction in productivity.

  • Increased risk of long-term depression

If employees feel pressured to come into work even when they are ill it can lead to the greater risk of long term mental health issues. This can include stress-related conditions and a greater risk of depression.

  • Higher risk of accidents at work due to impaired employees

Whilst a lot of the issues around presentism focus on the impact of mental health, coming to work when you are unwell can also have dangerous consequences for the physical health of you and other employees. If for example, you are subject to presentism when you are operating heavy machinery, a momentary lapse in concentration could lead to the greater risk of very dangerous accidents.

How can my business start to manage presentism in staff?

As shown, the pressure that employees feel to turn up to work even if they cannot perform their job to their maximum ability can be dangerous both to the physical and mental health of staff. If you want to better manage your employees you should try to discourage them from coming in if they are not fit to work. Make sure you stay up to date with the latest thoughts on the subject to develop the best strategy to go about this.