Word of the Day: Presenteeism

I learned a big word yesterday.

“Presenteeism is defined as lost productivity that occurs when employees come to work but perform below par due to any kind of illness. While the costs associated with the absenteeism of employees has been long studied, the costs of presenteeism is newly being studied.” (Levin-Epstein, 2005)

“Presenteeism is a new term used by human resource professionals to describe circumstances in which employees come to work even though they are ill, posing potential problems of contagion and lower productivity” (CCH Incorporated, 2003). (Sloan Work and Family Research Network).

So, basically there is a big fancy word for coming to work sick.  I learned this lesson years ago.  When I worked for Attila the Hun a very difficult boss who made my life miserable.  I didn’t dare take a day off because I didn’t want to make the call in the morning.  The flu season hit and it knocked me for a loop that year.  I went to work coughing, dripping, and feeling like a bus had run me over.  Backed up.  And run me over again.

Diligently I sat at the front desk waiting for customers to saunter through the museum.  Nobody visited the museum during the weekday.  All alone, I sat sniffing, coughing and filling up the wastebasket with Kleenex.  My boss came down to give me an assignment to do.

“Are you sick?”  she asked.  Her astuteness was acute.

I nodded my head.  “I don’t feel so well.”

I totally expected to be commended for my conscientiousness and superb work ethic.  Instead, she took a step back and lectured me for coming to work.  Lesson learned.  And by learned I mean drilled into me.

A couple of years ago, I shared an office with someone who was the definition of presenteeism.  She discovered the little fact that if she made it a whole year without taking one sick day, she’d be paid a week of sick leave at the end of the year.

For Christmas I bought my mom a certificate for a family photo session.  The last professional photo session my family had was when my sister was a baby.  She was now in her late 20’s.  So, it was time.

Two weeks before our scheduled appointment, my co-worker showed up to work sick.  Sick is an understatement.  She looked worse that Courtney Love after an all-nighter.  I’m assuming.  I begged her to go home but to no avail.  She was determined to get that pay-out at the end of the year.  She stayed and polluted our tiny office with her germs.

I worried all weekend but was fine.  However, on Monday my chest grew tight.  I stayed home on Tuesday trying to nip it in the bud.  Nothing was nipped.  I became quite ill.  Our first family pictures in over 20 years (and our last ones) and I looked like Rudolph with a red nose.

I’m more of what you would call a grudge carrier than a gracious forgiver.  I never let my officemate forget it.  I should have had Attila call her and give her a what-for.  After all, it worked for me.

Last Sunday I woke up feeling a little light-headed.  Something was either filling or draining and my balance was off.  Monday it was a little worse.  Tuesday night I went to our Youth Group activity and one of the girls  regaled me with her tale of woe.  She’d been sick for a week.

“I’m not contagious now,” she said after seeing me step back, “but if you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck then you know you got it.”

I woke up on Wednesday and wondered if I felt like I’d been hit by a truck.  Still light-headed but no truck.  Today my light-head morphed into a headache.  But it’s Thursday.  I’ve worked hard all week to enjoy a weekend.   I even sacrificed my lunch hours just so that I can leave early tomorrow.  There is no way I’m going to be sick now.  Maybe on Monday, but not tomorrow.

I had a little chat with my body tonight and explained the situation.  Actually, it knows but sometimes forgets.  Sick days are only to be had Mondays through Wednesdays.  Thursdays through Sundays are off limits.  And of all the days, Fridays are the most honored, revered days.  It’s near sacrilegious to be sick on a Friday.  I won’t allow it.  If I have to, I will perform an act of presenteeism, that’s how serious I am.  Just don’t tell Attila.

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