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Work despite illness - productivity losses and health costs

Working despite illness (presenteeism) is a current phenomenon of modern working world. The exact distribution can only be determined in a few ways, as well as the costs induced by productivity losses and the possible chronification of diseases.

A frequently used key figure for assessing the state of health of employees is the number of days of work incapacity. This is meant as days when employees stay at home due to illness. We also speak of absenteeism. Another indicator, however, which has so far rarely been added, is presenteeism. In this case, employees go to work despite a disease, even though it would have been legitimate and advisable to take sick days or have the doctor write a sick note.

Presentism © Uwe Völkner, Fotoagentur FOX

The concept of presenteeism has not yet been uniformly defined. So far, there are also no uniform concepts for dealing with this problem. Presenteeism is an indicator of the state of health, which, unlike doctors' sick notes, has not yet been regularly recorded. It is also not clearly perceived, since the employee is indeed present.

The reasons why employees go to work with a cold, with pain or other ailments can be explained in various ways. In order to gain an in-depth overview of this phenomenon, BAuA has commissioned an international review to revamp the state of knowledge on the subject.

In terms of research: the behaviour of the employees and the productivity losses

There are currently two main strands in the research on presenteeism: work from Europe focuses on the behaviour of employees who despite illness are still going to work. Here, the authors of the studies mainly investigate causes and influencing factors of the behaviour as well as its health consequences.

From the point of view of health, it is shown that, in the event of a rather poor health, presenteeism increases the risk of cardiovascular disease in the long term. Two studies indicate a link between presenteeism and long-term incapacity for work. But there are also indications that presenteeism can have a positive effect, for example in certain chronic musculoskeletal disorders.

North American studies, on the other hand, are concerned with the productivity losses resulting from health problems at work. Since the influence of diseases on productivity has been investigated in the USA for some time, it is possible to make much better statements about the quality of the measurement procedures. From a business point of view, the costs arising from presenteeism are at least as high as the cost of illness-related absenteeism.



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