Thursday, June 14, 2007

Presenteeism vs. Absenteeism & Wellness - what does it really cost?

Here's a new word and concept I ran across at a Wellness Conference last week - presenteeism. Was your reaction the same as mine? I thought to myself, what did you say and how do you spell that?

For those of you looking for a definition, here's how wikipedia defines presenteeism, "Presenteeism is the opposite of absenteeism. In contrast to absenteeism, when employees are absent from work illegitimately, presenteeism discusses the problems faced when employees come to work in spite of illness, which can have similar negative repercussions on business performance".

I decided to do some research out on the web and I found quite a bit of information out there. Obviously this is a new idea and concept - the oldest article or story about this I could find was in April of 2004 when WebMD, CBS, and MSNBC covered it. Most of these stories referenced a study done by Cornell University - here's the article or press release - which came out just days before the media covered it.

You may be thinking that if I'm sick I just stay home - the last thing I'd want to do is to get the rest of my co-workers sick as well - then they would be missing time and productivity. But, as well all know, all employees out there are not as conscientious as you - especially when it may come down to getting paid vs not getting paid. Also, what's the culture at your company? Are you expected to come to work or possibly just work from home when you're sick or just not feeling well? I know that there are many companies out there that view "calling in sick" as a sign of weakness and a lack of teamwork - please don't be one of those companies!

We all can look at the surface and brainstorm about the factors or distractions that cause the loss of productivity while coming to work sick. Here are some I came up with that probably take up the most time.

1. On the phone with doctor, family, friends - telling them how bad you feel
2. Constant restroom breaks - I won't go into anymore details...
3. Constant breaks to get a drink and snack
4. Talking to your co-workers about how bad you feel and discussing treatment options from when they or another family had the same symptoms.

Now, let's take this deeper and see how this may impact your company - from a financial, loss of productivity, and higher healthcare cost perspective.

The Cornell University study presents some pretty staggering figures and statistics. They say that "the productivity losses from presenteeism are possibly as high as 60 percent of the total cost of worker illness - exceeding the costs of absenteeism and medical and disability benefits".

"For such conditions as allergies and headaches, on-the-job productivity losses could account for over 80 percent of employers' total illness costs, the Cornell and Medstat researchers report in the first study to add the cost of on-the-job productivity losses from common health problems to total employer health-related expenses."

"All in all, this means that from about one-fifth to three-fifths of the total dollars attributable to common health conditions faced by employers appear to be the result of on-the-job productivity losses," says Ron Goetzel, director of IHPS. He notes that headaches, allergies, arthritis, asthma and mental health-related problems such as depression incur the greatest on-the-job productivity losses.

So, if these common health conditions are really impacting our bottom line, what should we doing from a Wellness perspective to combat and reduce the impact of these ?

Be on the lookout for more information from me as this concept of presenteeism continues to gain more and more attention - and as we look at how we can practically develop wellness programs to tackle these conditions and the impact they have.

For those of you that want to read more free hard facts and details related to this, The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) did some extensive study and here's their data - pdf or html - published in January 2003, Volume 45, Number 1.

If you're open to paying for some more information go to the Archives of the JOEM and look for the April 2004 Issue, Volume 46, Number 4.