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The Absence Management Dilemma : Absenteeism v Presenteeism

The idea of absence management can give any employer a headache. What do I do when I suspect staff are not really ill? Can I contact staff whilst they are on sick leave? How do I make up for lost working hours?

With an average of 7.7 sick days taken by each employee every year, absenteeism is a definite problem for all businesses. However, could presenteeism be even more of a risk?
Since the introduction of the ‘fit note’ in April 2010 employees are no longer simply signed off sick but declared either ‘not fit for work’ or ‘fit for some work’. Whereas previously, GP’s had the power to sign an employee off sick for six months before a benefits agency took over, the ‘fit note’ now promotes the encouragement of employees going back to work, perhaps on light duties or reduced hours, earlier than they usually would. This, along with other factors such as the recession and job insecurity, has sparked a rise in what has become known as “presenteeism”.

Presenteeism is the result of employees turning up to work when they are unwell. Consequently, loss of productivity and bad company representation can occur. If an employee is unwell they may act in a way that they may not normally act, or simply may not be fully functional. Mistakes can be made and time can be wasted – all of which incurs cost to the company. Recent research indicates that presenteeism accounts for 150% more lost time than absenteeism and is thus more costly to the company, partly due to the fact that presenteeism is common among higher paid staff. The research shows, for example, that a line manager with responsibility for staff is more likely to feel ‘guilt’ for taking time off sick and thus turns in for work.

In the present economic climate, companies can ill-afford unnecessary additional costs and there is an urban myth amongst employees that, in times of recession and redundancy, ‘if you never take a sick day you’re less likely to be made redundant.’

The key for employers is to ensure that they effectively manage absenteeism and there are a variety of different approaches that can be adopted from utilising more scientific methods, such as the Bradford Factor , to simply being the caring, sharing ‘go home and get yourself well’ employer?

“There is evidence to suggest that good HR practice and people management in SMEs are key factors in strong business performance and can lead to increased productivity.”

- CIPD people Skills Project 2017


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