The dilemma of presenteeism vs absenteeism
More than half of Kiwi workers are guilty of going to work sick: So why are the germ spreaders showing up at the office? In a recent survey Frog Recruitment asked 1,500 Kiwi workers if they go to work even when they feel sick, and more than half (52 percent) admitted they are guilty of […]
More than half of Kiwi workers are guilty of going to work sick: So why are the germ spreaders showing up at the office?
In a recent survey Frog Recruitment asked 1,500 Kiwi workers if they go to work even when they feel sick, and more than half (52 percent) admitted they are guilty of being germ spreaders in the workplace.
Frog Recruitment MD Shannon Barlow (pictured below) says the behaviour is driven by various factors, including financial constraints, the pressure of heavy workloads and the culture of New Zealand’s strong work ethic, where workers feel pressured to demonstrate their commitment to their employer.
“Presenteeism is when people turn up to work while they’re unwell and, in part, is driven by the ‘she’ll be right’ Kiwi attitude. Another driver for people coming to work when they’re not well is because they haven’t met their daily work goals. More than half (55 percent) of those polled felt the pressure of their workloads prevent them from staying home and resting.
“In reality, if you work while sick, job performance is lower and people are likely to perform more poorly, make errors and be less vigilant. If workers aren’t home and resting, this can have an incremental and detrimental effect on a worker’s health and their productivity over the days they are in the workplace.”
Barlow suggests employers and managers discourage presenteeism and work with an unwell employee to reduce workloads or assign tasks to other team members. However, disappointingly, some employers are reverting to a time when a ‘soldiering on’ attitude was acceptable, pressuring employees to come to the office regardless of illness.
“Since the Covid mandates were removed, we’ve been hearing that some employers still have the ‘unless you’re dying you should be working’ mentality, which is totally outdated. The expectation from employers to staff should be clear – get well and keep your germs at home.”
In 2021, the sick leave entitlement for most New Zealand employees increased from five to 10 days. Barlow says that despite the extension, people are ‘leave banking’ and preferring to save their leave for a severe illness rather than a sniffle. It’s a trend that Barlow says is on the rise.
“More than a quarter (28 percent) of respondents felt that while the sick leave entitlement had increased, it wasn’t enough. We are witnessing people not using their sick leave for a common cold or sore throat however, this often backfires when the ‘sniffles’ morph into a more serious illness, putting themselves and their colleagues at risk.”
For many employees, working is an economic necessity. Not having an income, if they have run out of sick leave or are a self-employed contractor within a business who doesn’t get a sick leave entitlement, is simply not an option. The cost-of-living crisis in New Zealand is driving this trend, with one in six respondents saying they’ve used up their sick leave entitlements and need the money, leaving no choice but to go to work.
The WFH phenomenon has enabled 50 percent of Kiwis to work from home, while impacting how they take leave, with nearly 60 percent polled saying they find it harder to take sick leave when they have an option to work from a home office.
“It’s tempting to opt to work from home instead of taking sick leave when you’re feeling poorly,” says Barlow. “The onus is on the employee to be firm about not working while ill. Be honest with yourself and assess if you’ll be better off fully resting until you’re well again. Just as we know that driving a car with a low gas tank is not good for the car; the same can be said for our emotional and physical health and wellbeing.
“Companies need to create a supportive work culture that encourages the appropriate use of sick leave whether an employee is at the workplace or working from home,” says Barlow. “Valuing and prioritising employee wellbeing creates a healthier and more productive workplace.”