Have you ever rocked up to work with a brutal cough or a terrible night’s sleep? We all have at some point but sometimes taking a sick day just doesn’t feel like an option.
When I was only two weeks into a new office job, I got hit with the most debilitating cold. Instead of taking some time off, I dragged myself to work through a bitter cold morning, coughing and sneezing throughout the day, just to make my presence known.
I felt there was little choice – I hadn’t accrued any sick leave. What’s more, as the office newbie, I felt the pressure to perform. Of course, I wasn’t performing at all, since I was in no state to be anywhere other than in bed. It appears that I was also suffering from presenteeism.
In the COVID-19 world, the question of coming to work unwell has become a much bigger conversation. But the truth is, we should have been having these conversations long ago, and it shouldn’t just apply to COVID.
It’s unsurprising that presenteeism is more prevalent among insecure workers. Casuals and contract workers typically have little or no leave entitlements as well as unpredictable fluctuation of income.
Sometimes people feel they must soldier on through sickness in order to make ends meet. Even then, full-time employees still often show up to work unwell out of fear of being branded a ‘slacker’.
The latest What Women Want Report from the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) shows women are more likely to come to work sick. Workload pressures and casuals not having enough paid sick days were the most common reasons why women felt pressured to go to work while sick.
The pandemic has also shifted the nature of presenteeism: many women confirmed they continue to work from home while sick. But as the CPSU report noted, “it still impacts productivity and the individual’s health if they do not rest and recover from illness.”
Many workplaces promote an unhelpful or toxic culture of presenteeism, with workers putting in extra hours that are unhealthy, unsafe or unproductive. In this culture, mental health is overlooked as a legitimate reason to take time off.
In these circumstances employers – knowingly or otherwise – are unhelpfully rewarding anxiety, depression or exhaustion as a sign of dedication. New workplace safety regulations to protect workers’ mental health should assist workers to tackle this problem.
The bottom line is: You shouldn’t have to go to work when you’re unwell. Union members are working together to ensure safeguards are in place to prevent unhealthy and unsafe presenteeism.
Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) are there to keep your workplace safe and represent their work group or team when it comes to health and safety issues like presenteeism.
Workers in unions are keeping good mental health at the fore in workplaces across Australia. We stand together for better workplace conditions and protected workers’ rights.