Employees Still Go To Work Even When Sick

November 29, 2011

Sick employee at workRecent studies have found that many employees still go to work when they are ill, and consequently spread sickness to their co-workers.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, workers who go to the office sick think they are acting responsibly, but are often making the situation worse for everyone. The study on "presenteeism"--or attending work when ill--was conducted by Gary Johns, a management professor at Concordia's John Molson School of Business in Montreal. He surveyed 444 recent business school graduates, who reported an average of three presenteeism days and 1.8 absenteeism days over six months.

"People were most likely to show up for work when they were engaged in teamwork or project work or anything where they might let their colleagues down by not coming in," Johns explained to CTV News. "They were also inclined to go to work whenever they saw their work as having a significant impact on clients or customers or maybe patients."

Johns also found that people who were worried about job security were more likely to go to work when sick. "Secure employees don't fear retribution for an occasional absence because of sickness," he said, as quoted by BusinessNewsDaily.

Meanwhile, new research has found that workers who come to the office sick ultimately hurt other employees. As CBS News reported, a study by Supriya Kumar from the University of Pittsburgh found that the United States would have seen about 5 million fewer cases of flu during the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009 if a federal law had mandated paid sick leave for employees. A disproportionate number of those flu cases--about 1.2 million--would have been prevented in Hispanics.

Johns agreed that presenteeism often leads to absenteeism. "In other words," he told CTV News, "you could start with a small health problem that you exacerbate by going to work and then you have to stay home and you don't have any productivity at all."

Nevertheless, businesses apparently also must be concerned about employees who take too much sick leave. The Chicago Tribune reported that according to the human resources policy group Workforce Institute at Kronos, between 2006 and 2010 there was an 18 percent increase among workers who admitted taking a sick day when they weren't sick. Moreover, a 2007 survey by human resources consultant CCH found that two-thirds of U.S. employees who called in sick at the last minute were not actually ill.

"That's 'fake' sick time," noted Joyce Maroney, who is director of the group.

Compiled by Yaffa Klugerman


"Fearing Job Security, Employees Come to Work Sick," businessnewsdaily.com, November 18, 2011, Chad Brooks

"Sick-Day Faking on the Rise," chicagotribune.com, November 22, 2011, Ronnie Reese

"Study Asks: Why Do Some Go to Work Even When Sick?" montreal.ctv.ca, November 17, 2011, Angela Mulholland

"Want to Stop the Flu? Here's How," cbsnews.com, November 29, 2011, Kimberly Weisul

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