Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

The Effect of Presenteeism-Related Health Conditions on Employee Work Engagement Levels: A Comparison between Groups

Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

The Effect of Presenteeism-Related Health Conditions on Employee Work Engagement Levels: A Comparison between Groups

Article excerpt

Introduction

The global economy is still recovering from the recession of 2008. Locally, this recovery has been impeded by inter alia labour unrest through unionised strikes, both legal and illegal. Due to the slower recovery in South Africa, job forecasts have not been as optimistic as they should be and work opportunities are still scarce. Given the financial pressure that the everyday person faces, it is not a stretch of the imagination to consider that people could be present at work, but due to injury or various conditions (be they chronic or otherwise) they are not as productive as they could be. Several reasons could be postulated for this behaviour, for example the employee is paid by the hour and does not earn otherwise (Böckerman & Laukkanen, 2010), the employee wants to be a good soldier and be available at work (Peterson, 2004), the condition is chronic and will remain a bane whether at home or at work, the employee wants to avoid any possibility of being identified for retrenchment (Dekker & Schaufeli, 1995; Turnbull & Wass, 2000), general work pressure (overload or deadlines), and so forth. This act of being present at work but being less productive has been coined 'presenteeism' (Dew, Keefe & Small, 2005; Johns, 2010). Presenteeism differs from absenteeism. When absent, the supervisor or employer knows that the employee is not at work and not working, but in the case of presenteeism, the employee is at work but productivity is affected; this is obviously harder to gauge by the organisation.

Work engagement is an important organisational concept and is connected to productivity and commitment (Bakker & Demerouti, 2008; Bakker, Demerouti & Sanz-Vergel, 2014; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004). It is important from both an organisational and academic perspective that factors that affect work engagement negatively be identified and mitigated. Bakker and Leiter 10.4102/sajhrm.v12i1.640 (2010) indicate that engaged employees report good health and perform well. A healthy work force is a productive work force and organisations have become more attuned to the idea that employee well-being is important for organisational performance, as health and productivity are implicitly entwined (Loeppke et al., 2009). It is therefore expected that employees with high work engagement levels would report lower presenteeism-related health conditions as they experience less discomfort and distraction due to the absence of conditions. Consequently, there may be important intervention strategies that can be applied by the organisation in order to help offset the influence that presenteeism-related health conditions have on work engagement levels; this will have a triple effect: (1) employee assistance (the moral case), (2) improving desired organisational outcomes (the business case) and (3) occupational health and safety regulations (the legal case). Even though presenteeism is not a new concept, research regarding it is relatively sparse (Johns, 2010) and even more so within the South African context. Studies have found that the financial effect of presenteeism can be estimated to be above and beyond that of normal absenteeism productivity loss for employers (Stewart, Ricci, Chee & Morganstein, 2003), yet many organisations remain oblivious to its unseen impact.

Overview of the literature

Operationalising presenteeism terminology

Even though the vast majority of research presents presenteeism as being related to reduced productivity due to health impairment, for example allergies and arthritis (Hemp, 2004; Schultz & Edington, 2007), depression (Pilette, 2005) or obesity (Gates, Succop, Brehm, Gillespie & Sommers, 2008), it is important to mention that other researchers have postulated that there should be no difference in terminology for those impaired by health conditions and others who are inter alia bored, distracted, under-challenged or overchallenged at work, but who do not suffer from any of these health-related conditions as these employees are also present at work but not being productive (cf. …

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