Irish bosses worried by new trend of 'presenteeism'
Unwell staff who refuse to call in sick to work are costing companies
Presenteeism – a phenomenon often associated with the United States where people turn up for work even though they are sick – is emerging as a new problem for Irish businesses, according to new research on health and the workplace.
About one-third of employers cite presenteeism as a key health concern for their business, according to the research, the Aviva Workplace Health Index.
"Presenteeism goes up enormously when times are tough," said Ciaran O'Boyle, a professor of psychology with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
"People are afraid to ring in sick. There are a high proportion of people who come to work with ailments such as back and neck pain, allergies, migraines and depression.
"These people are not functioning to 100 per cent. Researchers have found that presenteeism can cut individual productivity by one-third or more."
Presenteeism can cost a business three times as much as employees who ring in sick do, according to recent research in the US.
Another thing to emerge from the Aviva Workplace Health Index is just how much the economic squeeze has hit this country's workforce.
"There is no doubt that the workplace has become more demanding and that economic challenges have changed the nature of the workplace as we know it," said the index.
The index – which surveyed 463 employees and 350 business managers or owners – added: "It is accepted and agreed by both employers and employees that staff have to work harder than ever, and that working extra hours and through lunch has become the norm for over half of the workforce."
Almost two-thirds of employees work longer hours than they are paid for at least once a week, while almost half regularly work late twice a week or more, according to the research.
The days of switching off while on holidays – or getting time off to recover from an illness – are also gone. The index found that almost half of employees have been contacted by their bosses while on holiday or sick leave.
"It used to be the case that there were switch-off times for workers," said Mr O'Boyle.
"Technology has a way of allowing work to invade non-working life."
About one in seven bosses are concerned their staff are drinking more alcohol to unwind, according to the research.
Despite this, more than half of employers don't offer any support to employees to help them deal with stress in the workplace.
The research also found that Irish workers are twice as likely as their bosses to be anxious about the future prospects of the business they work for. Two-fifths of employees are worried about the fate of their business – but only 21 per cent of employers felt the same.
Commenting on the research, Mary Connaughton, the head of human resources development in Ibec, said: "The tough economic climate means companies need to get the most from their staff if they are to survive and stay in business.
"Of course, this needs to be done in the right way. A healthy workforce is in everyone's interest."