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[Opinion] “Presenteeism”

Posted January. 30, 2007 06:47,   


In the past, you could save face if you could at least win a perfect attendance award if you weren’t good enough to win an Honor Award from your graduation ceremony. Perfect attendance in class was regarded as a yardstick to evaluate a student’s diligence and integrity.

However, immunologists say, “Just imagine how many diseases must have spread throughout the school because of the sick students who were even carried to school on their mother’s backs whether it rained or snowed.” So these days, many elementary schools have abolished the tradition of giving such awards.

“Presenteeism” is the name given to the concept of going to work while sick. A research report revealed that due to the presenteeism of employees in U.S. companies, $180 billion (or approximately 17 billion won) is lost each year. According to CCH, a legal counseling firm, 56 percent of employees in a poll responded, “Side effects resulting from workers showing up to work with sicknesses are severe.” These employees lower overall corporate productivity and raise concerns of contracting illnesses among their colleagues.

The losses resulting from presenteeism have even surpassed those occurring from “absenteeism,” or habitual absences from work. The latter results in an annual loss of $118 billion (or approximately 11 billion won) among U.S. companies. Despite many companies’ acknowledgement of the necessity of sick leave, there is no way to know if the leave is due to a serious illness or inappropriate reasons.

Presenteeism and absenteeism are two sides of the same coin. In the U.S., it is normal for companies to deduct sick days from employee monthly incomes to prevent inappropriate sick leave taking. However analysts are saying that this results in employees showing up at work even if they are sick.

Although there are no accurate statistics, it is believed that Korea has a higher number of those “obsessed with being present at work” regardless if they are sick or not. Sick employees have even collapsed at work. It is because they are jittery about losing their work, and also because they are loyal to their company. Corporate managers must consider encouraging sick employees to stay home. Sick people recover fast if they rest.

Chung Seong-hee, Editorial Writer, shchung@donga.com