Chris Wakefield, Vice President, European Marketing & Product Development, GOJO Industries-Europe Ltd. explores the rise of presenteeism and how to mitigate its impact via good hand hygiene
The term ‘absenteeism’ is well known, as are its effects on business. But have you heard of ‘presenteeism’? Presenteeism is the act of going to work despite being ill or having a work-affecting injury, and it’s the 21st-century problem that is undermining productivity.
It’s commonly thought that the rise of presenteeism can be traced back to the recession. Once the credit crunch hit, people feared for their jobs and turned up for work, no matter what. For example, in 1995 the average worker lost 7.2 days due to illness, but fifteen years on, between 2010 and 2018, workers took just 4.4 days off for this reason.(1) And according to a study by the CIPD, 86% of over 1,000 respondents said they had observed presenteeism in their organisations over the last 12 months, compared with 72% in 2016 and 26% in 2010.(2)
Measuring the impact
It’s clearly an accelerating trend, which is not good for anyone involved. The worker doesn’t get the time required to recover properly, and there are mental health issues to consider too. Presenteeism is often associated with anxiety, particularly when job security is threatened, as well as high levels of workload and stress.
For businesses, presenteeism hinders employee productivity and has negative economic implications.(3) In fact, research has found that it may account for up to 50% more working time lost than absenteeism(4) and that, for every £1 cost to a workplace of absenteeism, there’s estimated to be an additional cost of £2.50 due to presenteeism(5).
As well as the financial impact on a business, it can also have an adverse effect on the rest of the team.
Overall productivity may be lowered, as staff are left to pick up the workload of their colleagues who are present at work, despite being unwell. There is, of course, also the increased risk of the illness spreading across the workforce. Some illnesses, such as common colds and viruses, are highly contagious. They can spread quickly and easily, especially in closed environments where people come into constant contact with each other – such as busy office buildings. If you consider that the average person suffers from a cold for 22 days a year(6), but only takes 4.4 days off sick, then colleagues are being exposed to germs for 17.6 days each year!
Lowering the risk
Although it is impossible to remove the threat of infection completely, there are simple, practical steps you can take to significantly lower the risk and boost health and well-being in the workplace.
Firstly, employers should discourage their staff from coming to work when ill. Offering generous sick leave, flexible working policies, and having managers lead by example can all have a big impact.
Secondly, implementing an effective hand hygiene system can have a hugely positive effect on health. An outcome study of presenteeism and the impact of a comprehensive hand hygiene practice found absenteeism was reduced in the intervention group by over 13%(7). The key to this infection prevention measure is to actively encourage hand hygiene and make it second nature to everyone.
A combination approach is required to successfully influence hygienic behaviour. Firstly, facilities need to be accessible. As well as in germ hot spots like the washroom, effective and easy use dispensers must be readily available throughout the workspace. Discreet PURELL® dispensing systems are ideal for common areas, such as kitchens and reception areas, whilst PURELL® bottles sit perfectly on desks and work-stations.
Research has revealed that one single contaminated door handle can infect up to 60% of the occupants of a building within just four hours!(8) It is, therefore, a good idea to place a hand sanitiser dispenser by the washroom exit, offering a much needed additional opportunity for hand hygiene.
The formulation is also important. Products must be pleasant to use, gentle to skin, yet effective against germs. If choosing hand sanitising rub, a popular option when handwashing facilities are not immediately available, opt for one with the active ingredient, ethyl-alcohol, which has been proven to be is effective at killing viruses.
Finally, eye-catching signage is extremely influential when it comes to influencing hygienic behaviour. Not only does it act as a prompt, but it illustrates the most effective way to clean hands.
Having an effective hand hygiene system in place should be a key infection prevention for any business. Actively encouraging staff and visitors to practise hygienic behaviour is the first step to a healthier and more productive workplace, lessening the occurrence and minimising the impact of presenteeism.
3 Arbogast, J.W., L. Moore-Schiltz, W. Jarvis, A. Harpster-Hagen, J. Hughes, A. Parker. 2016. “Impact of a Comprehensive Workplace Hand Hygiene Program on Employer Health Care Insurance Claims and Costs, Absenteeism, and Employee Perceptions and Practices.” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 58, Issue 6, June 2016.
4 ‘Why Do Employees Come to Work When Ill?: An Investigation into Sickness Presence in the Workplace’, The Work Foundation and AXA PPP Healthcare, London, April 2010, p69
6 Based on an average person catching 2-3 colds a year and taking 7-10 days to get over each one
7 Zivich, P.N., Gancz, A.S, Aiello, A.E. 2018 “Effect of hand hygiene on infectious diseases in the office workplace: A systematic review.” American Journal of Infection Control, Vol.46, Issue 4, p448-455
Please note: This is a commercial profile
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