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Working When Sick Is Not Always Best

Working When Sick Is Not Always BestA new study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology finds that working when ill, sometimes called “presenteeism,” may not be a good idea.

Depending on the person and roles within an organization, sick employees can be present in body and not in spirit, while others can be ill and fully functional.

“Secure employees don’t fear retribution for an occasional absence because of sickness,” said study author Gary Johns, Ph.D.

So why do employees with acute, chronic or episodic illness work rather than stay home? The answer varies by individual, although health professionals and people working in early education, for example, report higher rates of presenteeism compared to people from other fields.

“Often, a person might feel socially obligated to attend work despite illness,” said Johns, “while other employees feel organizational pressure to attend work despite medical discomfort.”

In the study, Johns surveyed 444 people on their job requirements, work experience, absenteeism and presenteeism. Over the previous six months, participants reported an average of three presenteeism days and an average of 1.8 absenteeism days, most of which were attributed to illness.

“Respondents who viewed absenteeism as more legitimate reported more absences, more sick days and fewer presenteeism days,” said Johns.

Johns’ study found presenteeism was elevated among workers engaged in interdependent projects or teamwork.

Those who were insecure about their jobs also engaged in more presenteeism. “Presentees felt a compulsion to attend despite illness,” said Johns.

According to this and previous studies, presenteeism is more frequent when people face job insecurity and impermanent job status. Absenteeism, however, is higher in unionized work settings or when unemployment is low.

Experts believe organizations, employers and human resources departments will begin to turn their attention to managing presenteeism rather than absenteeism.

“Estimating the cost of absenteeism is more tangible than counting the impact of presenteeism,” said Johns. “Yet a worker’s absence — or presence — during illness can have both costs and benefits for constituents.”

Source: Concordia University

Working When Ill Is Not Always Best image by shutterstock.

Working When Sick Is Not Always Best

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Working When Sick Is Not Always Best. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 21, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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