The whole 'should I, shouldn't I go off sick' saga is likely to very much be at the forefront of your mind at the moment.

Probably because you were either hit with the lurgy over Christmas or are now batting off the mini gremlins of bacteria determined to catch you.

Didn't go off sick? Planning to soldier on? Well, whatever your ailment - physical or mental - you may be interested to know that there is an actual legitimate reason to call in sick. Because if you were to go in when you are not well or struggling with your mental health, you'll be adding to a growing problem in the workplace that could actually cost your employer thousands: presenteeism.

What now? Well, hang on in there. Today we talk about what presenteeism means and why it gives you a valid reason to dial in and get back under those covers.


The lowdown: what is presenteeism?

The dictionary definition of presenteeism is:

The practice of being present at one's place of work for more hours than is required, especially as a manifestation of insecurity about one's job.

Employees are going to work even when they are physically or mentally unwell is causing a state of mind that leads to them being present but not really there and disengaged in their role or the business. More recently, a survey conducted by The Hoxby Collective proved an intrinsic link between presenteeism in the workplace and mental health. They found that -

33% of workers said they'd suffered from mental health issues as a direct result of working rigid hours. Of those people, 90% were dealing with excessive levels of stress, 78% had anxiety, 60% were suffering from depression, and 52% had insomnia.

Ultimately, what all of that means is that presenteeism is the result of an outdated and restrictive working culture on employees who think staying late, drowning in overtime and working through sickness will lead to promotion and impress the boss. Sound familiar? We hope not.

Have you experienced presenteeism?

By now you probably already know the answer, but to help you get a good idea of what presenteeism in the workplace looks like - we'd like to introduce you to Adam…

Adam always goes to work, even when he is ill. In fact he often arrives at work early. Pretty impressive? Except that he spends the first 30 minutes chatting to colleagues, checking his Instagram and googling what to do next weekend. He manages to do just enough through the day to cover his back at work and sometimes even grabs the phone or starts typing when the boss walks past. He's seemingly focused with his head down but actually watching cat videos on YouTube or even searching for another job. Friday or not Adam will take any excuse to head down the pub at lunch and moan about work.

Be less Adam.

Of course, a presenteeism culture can manifest in different ways for everyone, but generally it's a state of mind you get yourself stuck in. A vacant feeling of existence without purpose. No matter how hard you try you can't focus and doing your job feels like a huge task.


Get the support and advice you need

If you're struggling with a virus it's important to rest. Not just for your own health but also for the health of your colleagues who would be grateful not to catch it. Conversely, if you're struggling with your mental health and not sure how to communicate this with your employer or whether you are justified taking time off, ask for help. Whether that is your doctor, someone in HR, your manager or a friend. Whoever you feel comfortable talking too. You don't have to do this alone and there is always help out there if you look for it.

Why going into work unwell is not good for anyone

We get it. You don't want to look like a 'bad' employee and your colleagues go in when they're unwell. You want to impress the boss and show that you care THAT much you will even go to work when you're on death's door. But, here's the thing. Going into work when you are unable to perform your role and fully be yourself is not good for anyone. Here's why:

  • You need rest - whatever your ailment you need rest to recover. If you don't rest it will probably take you a lot longer to get better
  • Your colleagues will be affected - spreading a virus or being stressed at work will have a negative impact on your colleagues
  • It will cost your employer - if you are not well your productivity will be lower and so will your performance. While it may not be obvious, this will ultimately cost your employer whether that's the output or mistakes made along the way
  • Your employer will never evolve - it takes one to influence others. If you have the bravery to go off sick perhaps others will follow and your employer will evolve


Need help convincing the boss?

There's plenty of info online about the negative impact of presenteeism in the workplace, including this insight from Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Alliance Manchester Business School, Sir Cary Cooper, CBE.

"Strong evidence suggests presenteeism is double the cost of absenteeism, with people turning up to work ill for fear of job loss, and ultimately burning themselves out and contributing little added value to their products and services."

Now if there's scientific proof that you should call in sick, what's stopping you? But If you still don't feel like going off sick is an option with your employer perhaps it's time to move on in your career? Here's some top employers who offer flexible working and decent company benefits.


Every superhuman needs a break now and then

The biggest problem with presenteeism at work is that it's also invisible and masked by the employee who is fearful of going off sick or admitting to their ailments. The Harvard Review explained this well, when they said:

"Unlike absenteeism, presenteeism isn't always apparent. You know when someone doesn't show up for work, but you often can't tell when - or how much - illness or a medical condition hinders someone's performance."

It doesn't matter how epic you are at your job or ambitious you are to move up the ladder, always remember that there's a time for hard work and there's a time to stop. Too many people believe you are only good at your job or doing well when you are burning the candle at both ends. Thankfully this attitude is starting to fade and more and more people are learning to have more balance.

Don't believe us? Just look to the people you admire. There's plenty of influencers that believe in taking a break and a health balance between work and life, including some of these successful business people.

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