Employees who call in sick normally get most of the blame for lost productivity, but a phenomenon known as “presenteeism” has been gaining notice, as well. Defined as the act of coming in to work when you’re sick and doing a third-rate job as a result, presenteeism costs businesses billions of dollars a year in lost productivity.
If presenteeism is damaging to businesses, then it would stand to reason that the workplace would be better off if sick workers stayed home until they got better. When the illness is a byproduct of the workplace itself, however, that worker will just get sick again and keep doing a listless and unproductive job.
Whether environmental or psychological, many workplaces have conditions that can make employees sick. These factors have a domino effect that ultimately is as bad for the business as it is for the employee.
What are 10 ways that your work may be killing you and your employer?
Doctors recommend getting eight hours of sleep per night, but one look around the average office reveals that, for many, it just isn’t happening. The bags under everyone’s eyes and the drained coffee cups tell the tale, along with a recent survey of more than 7,000 people, 23 percent of whom reported experiencing insomnia.
What’s causing the sleeplessness? One of the primary causes of insomnia is stress, particularly stress encountered in the workplace, according to the Mayo Clinic. The sleep-deprived often don’t view their fatigue as a reason to call in sick, however, so they go to work and turn in lethargic, sluggish performances that cost employers $63 billion a year in lost productivity, according to a Harvard Medical School study.
Lack of Exercise
A factor frequently implicated in the current obesity epidemic is the sedentary nature of many jobs. The unanimous consensus of the medical community is that a 40-hour-a-week stint at an office desk is a primary contributor to weight gain. As the American job market has shifted from manufacturing work to desk jobs, the problem has only gotten worse.
A 2010 study in The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that the obese were less productive in the workplace than their counterparts of average weight. The study found that rates of presenteeism went up as body mass index (BMI) did, so female employees with a BMI between 30 and 34.9 lost 6.3 days’ worth of productivity per year, while males with BMIs over 40 lost over three weeks’ worth of productivity. Taken together, the study estimated that obesity among full-time employees in the U.S. cost employers more than $73 billion per year.
Indoor Air Quality
In 1984, the World Health Organization released a report finding that many newly constructed office buildings had flaws in their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. These defects affected indoor air quality so severely that they caused conditions such as headaches, nausea, and fatigue, among others, in workers.
Many of the office buildings in the study still stand, with the same ventilation problems they had 30 years ago. Newer buildings are being designed with better ventilation, but until their designs become the norm it’s probable that health issues related to indoor air quality will continue.
According to the Gallup organization, the average commute from home to work is 23 minutes, but workers with longer commutes reported a larger range of negative physical and emotional conditions. Predictably, these health issues worsened as the length of the commute increased.
The study found that 19 percent of respondents traveled more than 30 minutes to get to work, while 3 percent reported commutes of more than an hour. Those with longer commutes were more likely to report neck and back pain, high cholesterol, and obesity.
Among those with commutes of more than 90 minutes, 40 percent spent most of the day worrying. The anxiety interfered with their ability to feel well-rested and experience enjoyment during their waking hours. The study found that the greater an employee’s commute, the more likely it was that productivity would be compromised.
No matter who you are or where you work, there will almost always be one person in your office who gets on your nerves. Most people are able to put those feelings aside, if only for the sake of civility, but there are always going to be employees who see no reason to hold back — sometimes leading to hostile, open confrontations in the workplace.
Public confrontations are awkward and stressful for those directly involved, as well as for the co-workers who have to witness them. They impact productivity, hurt morale, and cause other employees’ stress levels to rise. According to the book, “Banishing Burnout: Six Strategies for Improving Your Relationship with Work,” job stress caused by workplace incivility costs employers $300 billion a year in lost productivity.
What was formerly the domain of manual laborers now afflicts office workers in various sectors. Hours upon hours spent at a desk can often lead to chronic back pain, and prolonged computer use has been linked to such painful ailments as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Offices that don’t invest in ergonomic workspace equipment, such as chairs with adequate lumbar support, risk facing a workforce composed of ibuprofen-popping employees, whose physical ailments significantly slow their work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, repetitive stress disorders such as carpal tunnel result in absences from work averaging 23 days — a full 11 days longer than injuries related to explosions and fires.
Lack of Job Security
During a prolonged recession, lucky are those who have survived layoffs. They’ve outlasted the bloodletting, so logically it would follow that they would return to work relieved. Many don’t. In fact, following a layoff many surviving workers live in constant fear that the next round is right around the corner — and this time they won’t be so lucky.
In 2008, the Center for Work-Life Policy conducted a study called “Sustaining High Performance in Difficult Times.” It found that layoffs and firings are traumatic for the employees left behind, as their levels of trust and loyalty to their employers plummets. Paranoia was rampant, but rather than scare the employees into going the extra mile for their jobs’ sake, the layoffs caused employees to do only the minimum amount of work necessary to not get fired.
Shift Work Hours
Shift work is any work performed outside the boundaries of the standard U.S. work schedule of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. This includes night shifts, rotating shifts, or any other non-traditional shift. Shift work has been linked to changes in metabolism that elevate risk for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Obesity in particular has been shown to decrease productivity in the workplace.
The irregular hours associated with shift work interfere with circadian rhythm — physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, according to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. This interference can cause fatigue and insomnia. As if that weren’t bad enough, the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2007 took the step of classifying shift work as a probable carcinogen, right up there with engine exhaust.
Just because an employee is putting in long hours, don’t assume that those are hours full of quality work. A study conducted in 2009 found that workaholics who are the first to show up and the last to leave are frequently given to high levels of burnout and low levels of happiness. This can lead to a bad attitude that can easily go viral and infect the entire office.
The study claimed that employees who put in work weeks longer than 48 hours did so out of compulsion, not because there was a lot of work that was being diligently powered through. In such cases, these employees demonstrated high levels of presenteeism.
In many workplaces, there are managers whose effect on others is best described as “toxic.” This person can be so unpleasant that his or her mere presence in the office can cause it to become a stressful environment that stifles productivity. Normally, a co-worker fitting this description is a nuisance that can generally be ignored, but how can you tune out a toxic person when he or she is your boss?
The toxic boss lowers morale, causes a high rate of turnover, and makes the workplace a generally oppressive place — none of which boosts productivity. Career coach Nicole Williams says there are several strategies for dealing with such an individual, ranging from overperforming to direct confrontation. Successfully deploying these strategies can help make an employee’s day-to-day life more pleasant and, yes, less toxic.