Your business cannot function without your employees. Unscheduled absences, no matter the reason, have severe consequences for your business and your employees. You pay overtime to cover missed shifts, employees are stretched thin and the quality of their work suffers. In fact, employers pay about $225.8 billion a year, or $1,685 per employee, in productivity losses linked to absenteeism, according to a 2015 CDC Foundation report.
Presenteeism, on the other hand, is harder to quantify but is still costly to businesses. A study published in BCM Public Heath found that while “there is no universal agreement on the most appropriate method for measuring or monetizing presenteeism… it appears that economic costs are considerable.” Meanwhile, another study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found presenteeism reduced productivity by an average of $255 per employee per year due to 10 chronic illnesses, but more research is needed to accurately understand the financial effects of presenteeism.
Fortunately, there are steps employers can take to help inoculate their people against the dual threats of absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace. Employers are uniquely positioned, through benefits packages, to help employees care for their physical, emotional and financial health, as well as maintain a healthy work-life balance and foster better morale. Supporting these areas will help make sure employees continue to show up for work and are in top form while on the job.
Helping your employees stay physically healthy is paramount for reducing absenteeism and presenteeism, and there are many effective ways for employers to move the needle on employee health. Programs such as in-office flu shots and health maintenance programs may help prevent bigger problems down the road and keep employees healthy while on the job. Likewise, your HR department may be able to distribute educational materials with diet and hygiene tips to help your team stay ahead of preventable illness. One such health and wellness program, YourCARE, looks to help with employees’ health, offering risk assessments, coaching and direct communication to members with gaps in care and those at high risk.
Employers can also fight presenteeism by ensuring workers have paid sick leave and are encouraged to use it when needed. As discussed above, there are many reasons why workers feel like they simply can’t take a sick day, even when necessary. Make it clear that on-the-job illness is not acceptable and be ready to pick up the slack for members of your team who need time to heal. Sick employees who work are actually making their illness worse and can get their coworkers sick as well. Employees with a long-lasting cold, for example, can cause extended periods of presenteeism or eventual absences from the job.
Full-time employees with depression miss four additional days of work each year, and what’s worse, half of all employees with depression are not in treatment, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Depression also is one of the most treatable mental disorders, with 80% to 90% of people who suffer from it responding well to treatment, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
As an employer, you can help your people get the help they need. Direct communication with your employees is an easy, effective way for you to demonstrate your company’s commitment to mental health and to share vital resources for those who do seek help. As with any illness, medical intervention is key to combating mental illness; behavioral health options available through telemedicine providers and employee assistance programs make it possible to connect with a mental health professional quickly, easily and cost-effectively.
Underneath the surface of all these problems contributing to presenteeism and absenteeism is stress, particularly financial. A 2012 Carnegie Mellon study found that chronic stress may make it more likely for people to develop colds and other illnesses. Last year, Mass Mutual found that 48% of middle-income earners “worry about their household’s financial situation at least once a week.” Thirty-seven percent of all the respondents said they felt “not very” or “not at all” financially secure. These numbers match up with a recent survey by Bankrate, which found that 57% of Americans would be unable to handle a $500 emergency without going into debt.
The threat of debt is terrifying, and while you can’t completely erase it from your employees’ lives, you can help by using tools like PayActiv. It’s a tool that gives workers access to their earned wages before payday for a small fee, so they are empowered to handle unexpected expenses without resorting to payday loans. Americans are also stressed by medical bills, with a recent survey by creditcards.com revealing that 38% of Americans lose sleep over healthcare costs. The healthcare industry, however, is working on solutions to help employees with their financial health, like Simplicity, a new program that helps members with out-of-pocket costs.
Looking at the breadth and depth of the problems facing employers over absenteeism and presenteeism, the situation seems daunting. The truth is, there is no one single solution for employers or employees. Some of your people will continue to skip work, or show up sick and underperform. But, by addressing the physical, emotional and financial needs of your workforce, you may be able to shield your business from the worst effects of absenteeism and presenteeism.
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