Science-- there's something for everyone

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The trouble with presenteeism

You’ve heard of absenteeism: the problem of employees habitually missing work. Well, presenteeism can be even worse if sick people come to work instead of staying home in bed. This is particularly problematic when health care professionals show up for hospital shifts while suffering from contagious diseases. How often does this happen? According to doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the University of Chicago, all the time.

The researchers gave an anonymous questionnaire to 150 resident physicians in Illinois. 77% of the residents reported that they had come to work with flu-like symptoms at least once within the past year. I suspect that the remaining 23% just didn’t happen to have the flu that year. Ominously, 9% thought they might have given the illness to a patient, and 21% thought another sick resident might have done so.

There were a number of reasons the doctors gave for not staying home when ill, most commonly that they felt their patients and their colleagues needed them. The authors suggest that residents be given more guidance about the necessity of not coming to work sick. Most of us don’t like to see our colleagues coughing and sneezing in the workplace, but it can be deadly in a hospital.