Presenteeism is a widespread phenomenon where an employee attends work, despite experiencing health problems. Whether a sick employee shows up at work depends on many factors.

The most common reasons for working despite experiencing a health condition are:

  • Fear of not having time to catch up, 
  • The possibility of losing employment or part of earnings due absence from work,
  • Fear of losing customers and reducing the organisation's income, 
  • Reluctance to burden co-workers with the duties of the sick person, or inability to find replacement at all.

The greater the loss due to absence from work, the greater the likelihood of undertaking professional duties despite poor health.

The decision to "go to work or stay at home" also depends on:

  • The type of health condition, the severity of its symptoms, and how much they hinder normal functioning.
  • Health self-assessment.
  • Habits and attitudes towards work and employers (loyalty, sense of responsibility, excessive involvement in work).
  • The ability to match work (type of tasks, how they are performed) to current capability.
  • Organisation policy (e.g., tolerance of employee absence, care for the health and safety of the staff).

The less bothersome the symptoms are and the more motivated we are to work, the more likely we are to go to work despite the suffering a condition. This presenteeism can be either a good or a bad thing. Excessive workload of a sick employee who keeps showing up at work, could reduce the body’s ability to recover and potentially worsen the condition, extend its duration, increase the risk of health problems, and job burnout.

However, if the employee's symptoms of disease have only a slight impact on their work, or if it is possible to change their work post temporarily, then attending work can be beneficial for the employee and for the employer. Continuing to work in a modified capacity minimises the costs associated with absence from work; and it can enable active participation in social life, providing motivation to take better care of their health. On the other hand, the internal compulsion of being at work while ill can be a sign of workaholism which may have untoward consequences.

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The EMPOWER project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No. 848180