OHS Canada Magazine

Employers must combat both absenteeism and presenteeism: report

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June 16, 2015
By Carmelle Wolfson

Health & Safety Human Resources employment morneau shepell occupational health and safety presenteeism report study

Majority of Canadian workers have been present but unproductive at work, says Morneau Shepell

(Canadian OH&S News) — A majority of Canadian employees have been inattentive while at work, findings from a recent Morneau Shepell report indicate.

The report, The True Picture of Workplace Absenteeism, found that 80 per cent of respondents self-reported experience with presenteeism – time spent at the workplace while not productively engaged in work. Meanwhile, 81 per cent indicated that they had gone into work while they could not perform as well as they would have liked.

The reasons for doing so included physical sickness (47 per cent), stress or anxiety (40 per cent) and workplace issues and/or problems with co-workers or managers (22 per cent). Alarmingly, depression was specified as the cause by 15 per cent of respondents.

The conclusions of the study – which interviewed more than 1,300 Canadians, including 1,005 employees, 100 employers and 104 physicians – were released on June 10. The margin of error for the survey was 3.09 per cent for employees, according to a statement from Morneau Shepell.

“We’re hoping that it will be a bit of a wakeup call to employers,” said Paula Allen, vice president of resource and integrative solutions at Morneau Shepell. “It might not be easy for an employer to assess, but employees felt pretty clear that they could see when it was happening.” When measuring presenteeism, Allen said, accidents, errors, missed deadlines and having to redo things were all indicators of inattentive employees.


Both presenteeism and absenteeism can contribute to increased risk of accidents, noted Allen. With absenteeism, co-workers might be expected to do extra work to compensate for the missing employee, which can lead to fatigue, overtime hours or skipped breaks. Contract workers, who are generally less trained, may also be hired to replace absent workers. “All of those things, I think you can see, increase the possibility of accidents.”

Allen suggested that employers should not deal with absenteeism in a punitive manner. “In most situations, it really is an indication that there is something going on and that it makes sense for employers and employees to collaborate to improve the health of the workplace and, ultimately, absence.”

When it comes to workers going on prolonged absence or disability leave, the biggest barrier to employees returning to work could be that workplaces cannot accommodate employees; 76 per cent of the physicians surveyed indicated that a major barrier was workplaces not being able to accommodate their conditions, followed by their fear about returning at 62 per cent. Meanwhile, 49 per cent of physicians reported that they were not comfortable providing information on work-performance limitations due a medical condition, and 21 per cent said they were not comfortable providing medical notes for workplace duty restrictions.

Other key findings from the report included that 56 per cent of employees were not aware of their organization offering employee-assistance programs and 43 per cent indicated that their organizations did not create an environment that supported mental wellness on the job.

“Safety isn’t only about policy, it’s really about building a health and safety culture,” said Allen.

The True Picture of Workplace Absenteeism is available to read online at http://www.morneaushepell.com/sites/default/files/documents/3679-true-picture-workplace-absenteeism/9929/absencemanagementreport06-08-15.pdf.


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