Sunday, March 25, 2007


Presenteeism ( n. The feeling that one must show up for work even if one is too sick, stressed, or distracted to be productive; the feeling that one needs to work extra hours even if one has no extra work to do.
presentee n.

cf. {absenteeism}

"Presenteeism", a neologism that dates from the mid 1990s, describes a phenomenon that has been on the rise in recent years. It is motivated by two basic concerns: the fear of losing one's job in an era where there have been relaxations in employment protection laws, and the potential loss of income, as more companies reduce employee benefits, particularly pertaining to sick leave.

Almost half of all American workers don't have paid sick leave. Those who do are most likely to work for the federal, state or local government or are union members. Even when people have sick leave, most employers don't have provisions that allow people to take time off to care for ailing children or other family members. For many people, it's a matter of choosing between one's own health or that of dependent family members and one's job. For many others, it's choosing between one's health or paying their bills that month.

So, many American workers bite the bullet and make the miserable "choice" of dragging themselves to work, even though they are unable to perform at 100% capacity and are also frequently contagious to others.

But according to a Cornell University study, presenteeism costs employers about $255 per employee per year, for a total of $180 billion. A sick employee who comes to work, anyway, may only function at a fraction of their normal productivity level, but they employer pays the same expenditure in wages, social contributions and taxes as an employee operating at 100%. They may also be more prone to mistakes, and in the case of contagious diseases, they will likely pass it along to coworkers, causing a more widespread decline in work efficiency.

I think that it's a disgrace that, for many Americans, adequate health benefits and sick leave are a luxury. But at present, no laws require private employers to provide paid sick leave, except for a local San Francisco ordinance.

In 2005, Democrats in the Senate and the House introduced the Healthy Families Act, which unfortunately ended up languishing in committee. The legislation was reintroduced last week and, if passed, would require employers with more than 15 workers to provide seven days of paid sick leave. It's a far cry from the 18 paid sick days per year I enjoyed while on the police force, but it's a very good start for millions of Americans who presently are not allotted even a single day.


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