For many, staying late at work or coming in while sick is a badge of honor. It shows dedication to the cause. But could working when sick or working late – so-called presenteeism – actually do more harm than good?
What then, is presenteeism? “It’s a fairly new term and (it’s)… not been precisely defined,” Andre Spicer, professor of organisational behavior at Cass Business School, told CNBC.
“Broadly speaking, it’s turning up to work, being physically present but mentally absent.”
While working all hours was once seen as the preserve of high-fliers on Wall Street and the City of London, research by insurance company Canada Life in 2013 showed that 93 percent of U.K. workers they surveyed had worked while ill, highlighting how the issue was becoming increasingly widespread.
The impact of presenteeism is varied, according to Spicer.
“Firstly, sometimes it can become infectious,” he said. “People begin to see that what gets rewarded is hanging around and being present without actually necessarily producing much, so then other people might begin to copy that.”
“Longer hours become the norm, so the result is that people will stay longer and longer in the workplace, and therefore neglect other aspects of their life,” Spicer added.
While some of us may think that putting those extra hours in is always beneficial, that may not be the case. “One very basic fact is that the U.K., out of all western European countries, is the least productive, but spends the most hours at work,” Spicer said.
“So there seems to be not that much of a relationship between hours at work and productivity.”
According to figures from the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics, in 2013, gross domestic product (GDP) per-hour-worked in France was 28 percent higher than in the U.K.
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According to the Canada Life survey, 20 percent of respondents came into work while sick because they were worried about the financial implications of taking time off, with 13 percent feeling “too threatened by the risk of redundancy” to take a sick day.
One reason why people are spending longer in the office could be the current job climate, according to Spicer. “One of the major trends which we’ve seen is… increasing employment insecurity,” he said.
“Often, jobs which would have had reasonable conditions – pensions, holidays – all those kinds of things are being eroded slowly, (there’s) an increasing reliance on temporary working, outsourcing.”