Recently, two of the teachers in my mum’s school had to be sent home and were off work for a few days – they had come into work ill and one of them almost fainted. Exams had just began and they wanted to be there to ensure their kids did well. I understood their reason but at the same time, their health was more important. Did this affect the school in anyway? No it didn’t. The teaching assistants were there to invigilate and assist the kids where necessary. However, this might be the case in many organisations. So I have written this post to discuss these issues and offer some insight and recommendations.
“Mehn I don’t feel like going to work today, I think I’m just gonna call in sick men. I’m really fed up of the endless paperwork”. Most of us are guilty of this. We wake up one morning especially during the winter when getting out of bed seems like the hardest thing to do. So we lie in, pick up the phone (if we have the courage to) and turn on the “sickness voice” or send a text (when you fear your healthy voice might give you away or you are just not in the mood to answer questions from your boss). After that call, you suddenly gain energy, jump up, make a cup of tea or coffee and head back to bed. We lie in bed or sleep for another couple of hours, get up and just enjoy your day doing nothing. Or it just might be that you’re truly ill and can’t make it to work. All of this, no matter how you paint it, is Absenteeism.
Everyone falls ill at some point. When you fall ill and fail to turnn up at work, then that’s absenteeism. Yes, this is bad for your employers. It affects productivity; results in high staff turnover as they have to recruit agency staff whenever you fail to come in. If your role is the type that needs you to always be there; your team might be affected if you are a key player.
If you are the type that genuinely falls ill ALOT and the doctors can’t seem to find out what your problem is, then you have a big problem. Think stress. Yes it could be stress. If it’s not the usual flu and hay fever then you need to be worried about your health. Let me share my experience with you.
There was a time in my life when I couldn’t cope with the way things were in Nigeria. I was used to orderliness and all of a sudden I was facing so much chaos. The driving was and still is dangerous and sometimes homicidal – you need to really drive with all you’ve got and if possible borrow extra senses from God. The constant power failure and heat stress really got to me; the non-chalant attitude of many Nigerians I came across left me speechless; the lawlessness, the list goes on. I was constantly in shock. I was constantly feeling ill with weird pains in my head and under my feet. The truth is I knew I was stressed and I was desperate to get used to the bad situation of things for the sake of my sanity. The truth is no matter how prepared you are to deal with life and all its shortcomings, some situations push your preparedness aside and deal with you in a bad way.
Coping with Absenteeism as an employer: I have mentored a few people on how I like things done and how things should be done at my “workplace” so that even when I am not there, the job gets done. Dear employers, here’s an advice for you – Nobody is indispensible, have enough staff trained to carry out various tasks. If one is absent, the other can continue without any “break in transmission”. If I have to always be there, then whenever I am ill, they would feel the full brunt of my Presenteeism. Now that brings me to Presenteeism.
What is Presenteeism? One of my sisters asked recently when I mentioned the title of this post – I was looking for a suitable title and decided to discuss it with my sisters. My reply? “Do you ever feel ill but still make it to work possibly because you have much to do and need to get on with it or you just don’t know how to tell your boss that you are truly ill?” Well that’s Presenteeism, I replied. Many people do not know about Presenteeism even though it is constantly staring at them. I am guilty of this and many of you are. I used to be one of those who goes to work even when I have the flu – to me flu was one of those inevitable things that happens to you and as long as you are treating it then you’re good to go. I was wrong because on a few occasions, I ended up passing my cold to my colleagues.
Ok, maybe a little better because at least you go to work and “try” to get some work done. You get enough done and manage to reduce your workload – then you’re probably not ill enough. Or you manage to get something done but by the end of the day, you realise you are better off staying at home since you haven’t achieved much. Then if this is your case, you are too ill to be at work. Infact, you are there but “not” there.
Presenteeism is just as bad as absenteeism. Ok, maybe a little better because at least you go to work and “try” to get some work done. You get enough done and manage to reduce your workload – then you’re probably not ill enough. Or you manage to get something done but by the end of the day, you realise you are better off staying at home since you haven’t achieved much. Then if this is your case, you are too ill to be at work. Infact, you are there but “not” there.
Dealing with Presenteeism as an employer : Dear employer, you might be glad and feel fulfilled that your employees drag themselves to work when they feel ill. Don’t be fooled by their presence. You will be slow to find out that their presence is doing more harm than their absence would have caused. Yes. They spread cold and flu to other employees who in turn decide to be absent. It is a vicious cycle. Encourage your enployees – tell them they don’t have to come to work if they feel ill. Assure them they won’t suffer for any sickness absence. Have a policy around this.
Are you now confused? Are you wondering if I am advising that taking time off work on the basis of illness is better than going into work? Don’t be confused. The bottom line is, if you are genuinely ill, you need not go to work, also do not stay at home but see your doctor. Then your doctor can recommend you stay home until you get better or declare you fit to work. If you are too ill to achieve anything significant done, then don’t go to work.
In Nigeria, this is easier said than done. Many employers will frown at any sign of sickness or sickness absence – your job might even be on the line. In such situations, get a sick note from your doctor. A real sick note. If your sick note will not be trusted, get some of your colleagues to visit you while ill – they can in turn report the true nature of things to your boss.
So what’s your flavour? What kind of person are you? Are you the type that “falls ill at will” or “pretends to be well at will”? Absenteeism vs Presenteeism? You should strive to be neither.