Working While Sick Is Dumb — But We Do It Anyway

Related articles

Last week, Hillary Clinton left a September 11 memorial service after she felt overheated and dehydrated. Her team later confirmed Clinton had come down with pneumonia the Friday before, but had not canceled any of her upcoming events; it was only after she slipped out of the ceremony early that the public was informed of her sickness. She's not the first nor the last public figure to keep working while sick. In fact, she's not the only human on the planet that keeps chugging along while feeling less than 100 percent. What is surprising though — and dare we say dumb — is that the idea of showing up to work at all costs is very much the American way. Don't believe us? We have a name for it: Presenteeism. The word is so uncommon, spell check even highlights it. 

The compulsion itself though is so common that researchers have analyzed its effect on the economy and overall public health. One study shows the cost of presenteeism to the U.S. economy is a whopping $344 billion annually. You heard that right: cost.  Presenteeism — the opposite of absenteeism — accounts for 75 percent of productivity loss, when people show up to work instead of recovering from whatever ails them. Absenteeism accounts for the remainder. Presenteeism racks up a number of health issues: fatigue, depression, sleep disorders, and anxiety. It's also the main factor in people getting 'burnt out' by their work. Makes sense, since taking a sick day is so two years ago.

So why do we show up to work battling colds, headaches, back pain, and allergies, to name a few? Researchers say there are many factors.  Job insecurity, loyalty, limited sick pay, and pressure from employers are just some of the reasons we don't skip work.  Not to mention perfect attendance — whether at school or work — has long been applauded, and publicly. A 2010 survey of corporate U.S. managers showed they associate long work hours with 'more dedicated and more responsible employees.' Of course, certain jobs are more subject to presenteeism: nurses, doctors, teachers, and home health aides are four times more likely to work while sick than managers

Some innovative companies have integrated stress tests in the workplace, others rely upon different wellness options for their employees, but ultimately, being at work but 'out of it' doesn't do either party any good.

Time to call it in, folks.