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The problem with presenteeism

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Nurses who attend work while ill put themselves, c Nurses who attend work while ill put themselves, colleagues and patients at risk

When nurses get sick, the chances are they will try to shake it off and go back to work. Whether it’s due to management’s demand to ‘do more with less’ or the belief that their work is indispensable, many nurses clock in despite being ill or unfit to work – a state referred to as presenteeism.1

Nurses get sick, not only from exposure to infections, but also due to the physical and psychological demands of the job. Research discussed at the Division of Occupational Health Psychology Conference in January 2016 indicates presenteeism is particularly prevalent in primary care nursing and leadership roles. It is a huge healthcare concern highlighted by research conducted by the Sainsbury’s Centre for Mental Health that found that presenteeism is costlier than absenteeism.2

Pressure put on nurses to work when they are unwell is, in fact, counterproductive for employers not only due to later absence resulting from burnout, but also due to the financial costs of presenteeism-associated errors. This article explores the problem of presenteeism and helps nurses identify when they should and shouldn’t be attending work – and how to avoid the guilt of unavoidable absence.

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