A study conducted by the Centre for International Economics last year found that "presenteeism" - the word used for people turning up to work when they're sick - costs the Australian economy more than $34 billion a year.
Presenteeism costs businesses money because it results in lost productivity. A sick staff member who drags themselves to work risks infecting their colleagues and causing even more productive hours to be lost while multiple staff members recover at home rather than just one.
There are 3 main reasons employees come in to work when they're sick:
1. They're afraid they'll lose money or even lose their job.
2. They're worried their work will pile up while they're away.
3. They feel guilty about their colleagues having to do their work for them.
Sick workers who turn up anyway are generally unable to complete the same amount of work as they usually would and they're more likely to make avoidable mistakes because they're not thinking as clearly as normal.
John Crothers, the chair of Pathology Awareness Australia, who commissioned the study, said, "Yes, you've got a deadline to hit — but you want to do that in the understanding that your body's in a position to be able to do that effectively, and not underperforming and not spreading something that might actually be contagious."
Work-related infections are responsible for almost two thirds of sick days, but some experts say presenteeism can actually result in a greater loss of productivity than absenteeism (staff members taking days off work) - four times more, according to Medibank Private. They have estimated that six working days are lost per annum per employee due to presenteeism.
What's the solution?
Teleworking allows team members to work from home while still keeping in contact with their office. Staff who are well enough can attend meetings using conferencing technology to ensure projects and important meetings are kept on track and productivity levels are maintained without the risk of spreading infection around the office.
A web conference is a great way to participate in office meetings from the comfort of your own home. This way of meeting allows you to share screens so you can collaborate on documents in real time. By using webcams you can also see everybody in the meeting. Being able to see your colleagues and read their body language means you can engage with them more easily.
If there's no need to see each other's faces or screens during your meetings, and all you need to do is talk, a teleconference is a perfect alternative to a web conference. All you need to join a teleconference is a landline or mobile phone and an account with a reputable conferencing provider. Everybody can easily join the meeting from wherever they may be in the world.
Teleworking has additional benefits unrelated to workplace sickness. A Gallup study showed that "employees who spend at least some (but not all) of their time working remotely have higher engagement than those who don't ever work remotely", so this solution could be beneficial to companies all year round, not just in winter when most people get sick.
Presenteeism is clearly something that should be discouraged by all employers. Workers should feel comfortable enough to take the day off when they need to, and employers need to realise that it's in everybody's best interests that their employees take days off when necessary rather than suffering through the day at work. Alternatively, if they're well enough to work from home and wish to do so, employees should be awarded the opportunity to telework (and if you don't trust your employees to actually do work when they're working from home, you probably shouldn't have hired them in the first place).
Teleworking can save your company a significant amount of money while maintaining productivity, and adopting this approach will ensure your company stays up-to-date with business trends and survives the winter season each year with minimal disruptions.