Rates of work-related stress and illness are on the rise at the same time as rates of absence from work are decreasing. Psychologists believe this disparity is the result of increased presenteeism – working while ill or returning to work before full recovery. In other words, people may be returning to work sooner after illness, but they aren’t returning to work well. The nursing profession is far from exempt from this phenomenon; in fact, they are at heightened risk of it.
Unlike absenteeism, presenteeism is often an ‘invisible’ behaviour that is more difficult to detect. The behaviour needs to be made more visible if it is to be addressed – and addressing it is vital given that the impact can be more harmful and more costly than absenteeism.1
To bring presenteeism into the limelight, there is a need to better understand what causes it. The cause is not simple, however, and it is a multitude of personal and organisational factors (Table 1).2
The health event associated with presenteeism can be episodic, acute or chronic in nature. For example, perhaps you press on despite a headache (episodic), cold or stomach bug (acute), or ongoing back pain (chronic). We have all done this from time to time, but it is a regular behaviour in ‘safety critical work’ such as nursing.
Presenteeism and altruism