What is Presenteeism and How is it Affecting our Workplace?

According to Wikipedia, presenteeism is the opposite of absenteeism. Presenteeism occurs when employees come to work but are unable to focus on their jobs. This distraction is often caused when a sick family member or loved one at home needs frequent phone check-ins throughout the day, and requires help from the working caregiver to coordinate doctors appointments, follow up with insurers, etc.

Presenteeism takes its toll on everyone involved; it is stressful for the caregiver and family, and often results in poor work productivity. Researchers say that presenteeism cuts individual productivity by one-third or more. In fact, presenteeism appears to be a much costlier problem for employers than its productivity-reducing counterpart, absenteeism. (2004 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation).

With the growing number of family caregivers caring for someone at home, more and more working people are struggling to balance their caregiving responsibilities and work. Nearly 25-35 percent of the workforce is now caring for a chronically ill or aging family member and this number is expected to increase 50 percent over the next five years. According to the Met Life Caregiver Cost Study, businesses regardless of size or classification face the same relative costs: $2,110-$2,441 per caregiving employee. This translates into an estimated cost of $33 billion annually in workplace errors, absenteeism, tardiness and increased supervisory costs.

Presenteeism due to caregiving is a legitimate concern for employers, but it is also a problem for individuals, who at times are forced to make tough choices about whether or not to leave work in order to take care of a dependent family member. According to CareGiver Helper, Inc., a provider of eldercare employee benefit programs, 10-30 percent of any given workforce is at risk for leaving due to caregiver family commitments.
Carol, 54, is a family caregiver who quit her job as a health club manager to care for her aging parents. While she was comfortable at her job, and had accepted increasing responsibility over the years, she struggled daily and then made the hard decision to leave work after it was clear that both of her parents required daily assistance.

Carol is the youngest of three siblings, and her brother and sister live in other states, so daily caregiving responsibilities have fallen solely on her. At first, she was able to visit each evening after work to help prepare dinner and ensure that her parents were safe. She felt more at ease because her parents had each other and seemed to be coping well. However, now, with both her parents in their mid-80s, and both having complex health conditions (her mother has had two strokes and her father has worsening congestive heart failure), she finds that she has to manage their housekeeping chores, medical appointments, medications and financial accounts in addition to paying their bills, overseeing their insurance paperwork, and driving them to church, doctors appointments and other activities.

“At work, I was spending a couple of hours a day on the phone helping my parents. While my boss certainly didn’t stand over me all the time, it just became too much. I could not handle my job responsibilities and meet my parents’ needs.” So Carol quit, giving up her salary, benefits and health care coverage. Luckily for Carol, her short-term financial needs are met. “My parents pay for my COBRA so I can retain health insurance, and they are able to help with my rent at the moment,” she says. But Carol has serious concerns about her financial future and knows that the longer she remains out of work, the harder it will be for her to re-enter the workforce at her current level. Plus, she misses the routine of going to work and interacting with her colleagues and friends.

“I had a job I enjoyed. Many of my friends were people I knew from work, and we used to go out together. If I had known how much I would miss them, I might have tried harder to work out a part-time situation, though my position has not ever been considered part-time.”

Research shows that it is possible to help family caregivers balance their work lives with their at-home responsibilities. Aging Info USA is a provider of comprehensive educational resources in the work/life industry. As part of Aging Info USA, and through extensive research in caregiving as it relates the the employee/employer situation, I have found that employees who took advantage of educational and eldercare resources brought into their coporporate/work enviroment to help manage their caregiving responsibilities were less likely to report negative caregiving impacts on their work performance than those individuals who did not use support programs at all.

Of course, the programs are only helpful if caregivers use them. Too many people wait until their situation becomes unmanageable to use the employer-sponsored support programs. Employees and Employers need to understand that these programs are meant to be used before a crisis arises. That’s the best way to maximize the benefits of these programs for everyone involved, including the care recipient.

Aging Info USA also offers Employers an on-site Caregiving Navigator to help the employee find trusted resources within the network of eldercare and health and wellness providers and targeting their specific needs on an individual basis. Our goal is to help reduce the strain and depression that are often felt by working caregivers who are overwhelmed with family caregiving issues and to help improve their work productivity.

Are you at-risk for presenteeism at work?

Here is a quick check list of behaviors that may indicate a need for help:

  1. Are you increasingly late for work because caregiving commitments make it difficult for you to get out of the house on time?
  2. Are you using company time to call home, make doctor appointments, or talk with insurers?
  3. Are you missing deadlines or working overtime trying to fulfill work responsibilities that are taking a backseat to caregiving duties?
  4. Are you fearful that your manager may find out the amount of time you have to put in to caring for family members?

(taken from The Huffington Post, Oct. 10, 2010, revised)

For more information and a list of helpful resources, please visit: http://www.aginginfousa.com/.

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About Sue Salach

Sue has a Master's degree in Gerontology and has worked in the geriatric healthcare field for over 25 years and is the Author of "Along Comes Grandpa", a caregiving resource guide, and the novel "If I Walked in Her Shoes" (http://www.AlongComesGrandpa.com). As a Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer, Sue employs her comprehensive experience and enthusiasm to assist corporations in finding solutions to work/life balance challenges and pro-actively educate and empower their employees.
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