Here’s why some people show up to work when they are sick

·2-min read
Cropped shot of a businesswoman working in her office while suffering from allergies
Showing up for work while sick can damage your health - and your company (Getty)

There’s a single key reason why some people show up to work when they’re sick - potentially putting the whole office at risk from infection.

Research by Trinity College Dublin found that workers who feel they have not met their daily work goals feel they have to engage in ‘presenteeism’, working when sick.

The researchers also found that working on a day when you feel ill impairs your performance the next day by draining you of psychological energy.

Over time, ‘presenteeism’ inflicts costs on both organisations and employers - including burnout, impaired workability, and productivity loss.

Photo taken in Berlin, Germany
Researchers found coming in to work when ill made the subsequent days work worse as well. (Getty)

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Lead author Dr Wladislaw Rivkin, Associate Professor in Organisational Behaviour, Trinity, said: “It is crucial to tackle daily presenteeism, especially for remote workers.

“Managers should openly discourage presenteeism by reassuring team members that if they feel unwell it is acceptable to reduce their daily work goals and instead tend to their health.

“While it may seem a good idea to work despite ill health to deliver on work goals our research shows that this has a knock-on effect for remote workers’ performance on the next day as presenteeism drains employees’ psychological energy, which cannot be fully recovered after work.”

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The main reason people come in to work when ill is presenteeism. (Getty)
The main reason people come in to work when ill is presenteeism. (Getty)

Dr Rivkin says that the finding that working while sick causes employees to feel drained of energy means that managers should think of assigning different tasks to employees if they insist on working while ill.

Dr Rivkin says: “In light of the energy-depleting nature of presenteeism if employees engage in presenteeism they should work on tasks that are inherently pleasant rather than tedious tasks that further drain their energy.”

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The research involved 126 employees logging their daily productivity across 12 workdays, resulting in 995 daily work observations.

The full paper was entitled ‘Should I stay or should I go? The role of daily presenteeism as an adaptive response to perform at work despite somatic complaints for employee effectiveness’.

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