Regular attendance at work is an essential term of any contract of employment. An employer and employee agree on the required hours of work, with allowances for vacation and leave of absence. Most employees need time off for sickness absence or domestic emergencies from time to time. An employer may take disciplinary action if an employee's attendance falls below an acceptable level. However, presenteeism, or attending work while sick, can have a greater impact on work performance then absenteeism.
Absenteeism and Presenteeism
An employee is absent if he fails to attend on a day that he is due to work, without obtaining prior authorization. Common reasons for unauthorized absence are illness, child-care problems or family obligations. Presenteeism is much harder to identify than absenteeism. The employee continues to attend work but is ineffective because of ill health, work-related issues or family problems.
Impact of Absenteeism
An employee cannot carry out his duties if he does not attend work. However, the impact of absence on productivity can be difficult to quantify as employers take steps to mitigate any adverse effect. In a 2010 report, researchers at Columbia Business School found that replacing an experienced teacher with a temporary replacement led to a measurable drop in productivity. In this study, the impact of short-term absence was more significant than long-term. The manager found a higher-skilled temporary worker to cover a long-term absence, or the substitute developed her skills to become more effective over time.
Impact of Presenteeism
Employees may attend work when they are ill or experiencing personal problems. They might worry about putting their job at risk, letting their colleagues down or having no-one to provide cover. In these circumstances, employees underperform while at work, resulting in lower productivity and hidden costs for the employer. In a study published in the June 2005 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers concluded that the costs of presenteeism were higher than the combined costs of absence and medical treatment for employees with chronic conditions.
Impact on Performance
Absenteeism clearly reduces productivity for the individual and the organization during the period that the employee is not at work. However, absenteeism does not necessarily lead to lower performance in the job when the employee returns. Employees who are present at work while experiencing illness, personal problems or work-related issues are more likely to self-report that their performance is adversely affected. A report produced by The Work Foundation in 2010 concluded that managers issued lower performance ratings to employees with higher levels of presenteeism. Performance ratings for employees absent because of illness were not significantly affected.