CEOs, wake up to Presenteeism in your Organization


What is Presenteeism

Presenteeism has been called “working while unwell,” and is meant to refer to the lack of productivity, and cost to employers, when employees show up to work at less than full steam.

It represents disengagement with the task at hand for whatever reason, not just during cold and flu season. Simply put, it is a multi-billion dollar global concern and your company is more likely than not, contributing to that statistic. Yet, try dropping the word presentee or presenteeism in your day to day conversations with your leadership team and you’ll typically get a bewildered look. I get that half teasing statement even, ” You made that word up, didn’t you”. I didn’t but Prof. Cary Cooper did in the mid-nineties and it is now a mainstream term. defines pres·en·tee·ism [prez-uhn-tee-iz-uhm] as a noun:

1.T he practice of coming to work despite illness, injury, anxiety, etc., often resulting inreduced productivity.
2. T he practice of working long hours at a job without the real need to do so.

Do the factors that cause people to be presentees resonate with you?

The modern day Presenteeism is a result of barriers to an employee’s wellness. In a seminal study, “The Well-Being Assessment for Productivity: A Well-Being Approach to Presenteeism,”James O. Prochaska, et al, captured a holistic set of well-being related performance barriers. Their study revealed two distinct clusters—personal barriers and work-related barriers. Each of these barriers were chosen from many other factors based on how strongly they co-related with productivity loss. In the end, 11 factors were cited between the two clusters. One cluster cited personal related causes of presenteeism.

  1. Health
  2. Caring for others
  3. Financial
  4. Personal issues
  5. Depressed/stressed

… while the other cluster cited workplace related causes of presenteeism.

  1. Lack of Resources
  2. Issues with coworkers
  3. Not enough time
  4. Issues with supervisor
  5. Technical issues
  6. Lack of training

A Quick Practical way to measure it

There are simple yet smart ways to assess Presenteeism in your company. Once that’s done its an easy task to quantitatively estimate the $ impact to your business from the loss of productivity.

In a letter to persons interested in “content and scoring rules for the WHO HPQ absenteeism and presenteeism questions,” dated May 1, 2007, Ron Kessler, Maria Petukhova and Keith McInnes of the Harvard Medical School, and T. Bedirhan Üstün, of the WHO gave a quick way to compute presenteeism as shown below. They extracted the key questions from the WHO HPQ survey. Try this simple one-question dip-stick test with a sample of your workers and see what you get:

B 9 — On a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 is the worst job performance anyone could have at your job and 10 is the performance of a top worker, how would you rate the usual performance of most workers in a job similar to yours?

Worst Performance Top Performance

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

The scoring rules are pretty straight forward: Absolute Presenteeism % scoring rule: 10 x B9

  1. Start by thinking about your role.
  2. Walk through the above question, and answer it with honesty.
  3. What answer did you get for Absolute Presenteeism?

Ask each employee in your team to answer the question with all honesty. Compute the average Absolute Presenteeism. Taking the average Absolute Presenteeism as a percentage times the sum of annual salary of the employees in that team will give you the estimated gain in productivity if you removed the individual barriers leading to each employee’s presenteeism.

My research efforts into how these barriers get addressed today resulted in a shocking revelation. These range from being totally ignored to pill-popping lip-service. Addressing the root causes of the factors is the way to go. Its non-intuitive but doable.
How does your organization estimate the prevalence of presenteeism?