Presenteeism: Taking an Integrated Approach: By Integrating the Efforts of Disability Management and Employee Assistance Programs, Employers Can Form a Solid Foundation for an Early-Return-to-Work Program That Reduces the Impact of Presenteeism

Article excerpt

A supervisor notices that a valuable longtime employee has missed several project deadlines, appears distracted, and has begun arriving late to work and leaving early. Another employee, recently diagnosed with diabetes, has returned to work after taking a short-term disability leave of absence but is having difficulty coping with the effects of the illness on her life. A third employee harbors lingering feelings of anger about an on-the-job injury that are interfering with his successful return to work and is also struggling to care for an aging parent recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

These employees are exhibiting "symptoms" of presenteeism, a term used to describe the phenomenon of employees showing up for work but not performing to their full potential. Although presenteeism is familiar to many employers as a concept, it is still considered the next frontier among workplace issues, and relatively few work organizations--mostly large employers--are taking steps to address it (see "The Presenteeism Mindset").

Presenteeism shifts the focus of employers, human resources professionals, and others interested in workforce performance from employees who take unscheduled absences from work (a problem known as absenteeism) to employees who are present but not as productive as they could be. There are many drivers of presenteeism, including (but not limited to) chronic health issues or episodic illness, difficulty returning to work after an illness or injury, personal or family problems, and child care or elder care needs.

To address presenteeism and its multiple causes, some employers are making use of their workplace benefits, including disability management and employee assistance programs (see "An Integrated Approach to Presenteeism"). As this article will discuss, an integrated approach to combating presenteeism leverages the strengths of multiple programs to address the physical, mental, emotional, vocational, and practical needs of employees.

AN EMERGING AWARENESS

On the surface, employee presenteeism may not appear to be a serious problem. From an employer's perspective, having an employee on the job would seem preferable to having him or her miss work due to an unscheduled absence, whether from illness, injury, or other cause. In addition, the impact of presenteeism is difficult to gauge on a case-by-case basis--unlike disability cases such as workers' compensation claims, which are easier to measure in terms of cost of benefits and duration of time off.

Nonetheless, research indicates that presenteeism can have a significant effect on productivity and on a work organization's bottom line. Wayne D. Burton, M.D., employee wellness and productivity executive for JP Morgan Chase, says that presenteeism is estimated to account for two-thirds of total direct and indirect costs (such as lost productivity) stemming from medical care, absenteeism, short- and long-term disability, and presenteeism. The remaining factors together account for about one-third.

A small but growing number of employers are beginning to consider presenteeism from the perspective of performance and productivity management. They are starting to ask themselves a question: When my employees are not able to focus on their tasks and responsibilities, when they are distracted by problems and concerns, when the quality and consistency of their work suffers, what is the impact on my company's performance and productivity?

"The awareness is beginning to emerge at all levels," says Ronald Loeppke, M.D., chief health officer and senior vice president of integrated solutions for CorSolutions Inc. "What we have seen is that the 'C-suite' level in the company--the executive team--does grab onto this issue of managing total cost by recognizing the business value of health in the workforce."

A GLOBAL APPROACH

Disability managers and EA professionals can play a major role in helping companies understand the importance of addressing presenteeism and utilize existing tools and services more effectively to help improve employee productivity Disability managers know the importance of early-return-to-work programs that help ill and injured employees transition back to the workplace. …