Tuesday, December 27, 2005


From MedPage Today:

Sometimes it's better for everyone if dedicated, hard-working employees stay home from the job if they're under the weather.

We're not just talking about use of the occasional "mental health day" -- calling in sick even though there's really nothing much wrong but the worker just can't take it any more.

But we are also looking at the flip side of the equation, the employee who grits his or her teeth and marches into the office, despite chronic or acute illness.

In the best-case scenario, "presenteeism" -- coming to work when you shouldn't -- results in a job that's not done as well as it could be. In the worst case, it causes a cascade of illness that depopulates the office -- and the job is still not well done.

"It's really perverse," said Graham Lowe, Ph.D., a sociologist and consultant whose Kelowna-based company analyzes workplace health issues. The phenomenon extends to physicians and nurses.

During his research career at the University of Alberta, Dr. Lowe found that the positive motivations that drive medical professionals also lead them to come in when they're sick.

"Nurses on teams feel an incredible commitment to their patients and to their co-workers," Dr. Lowe says. "And it's good that they're committed to their patients, good that they have strong bonds with their co-workers."

But "the unintended consequence is that they put their own health as a second priority."

It's pretty easy to see why absenteeism is a concern to employers. According to one survey, unscheduled absences cost the boss nearly $700 a year for every employee.

"Presenteeism" is a lot harder to nail down, although the Harvard Business Review last year estimated that the cost could be as high as $150 billion a year in the U.S., with workers fighting through a range of illnesses, including allergies, asthma, headaches, depression, back pain, arthritis, and gastrointestinal disorders.


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