Going to Work While Being Sick – Not Always the Best Policy

For many of us, work represents a significant part of our lives. Not only do we spend half of our time at work, but we also tend to invest personal resources and efforts to accomplish our professional responsibilities, develop meaningful relationships with colleagues, and construct our sense of identity on what we do.

In the past few decades, organizational and management research has focused on the impacts of absenteeism and implement measures to prevent it, such as rewarding satisfactory attendance and reinforcing policies to justify absences. Combined with a social context that values performance and being seen positively by peers, these measures can influence employees’ decisions to go to work or not. In return, another attendance behavior has been a subject of interest more recently: presenteeism

Defined as going to work while being sick, presenteeism is now known to be a widespread phenomenon among workers. It is estimated that more than 60% of employees report having worked while their health was not optimal, having different impacts for organizations and their members. 

Impacts of presenteeism for organizations

By reducing employees’ efficiency, presenteeism also generates productivity losses for organizations, which are estimated to be higher than those produced by absenteeism. It is estimated that presenteeism costs, on average, $255 annually per employee of a single organization, and its productivity losses can cost between $150 – $180 billion dollars per year (Goetzel et al., 2004; Hemp, 2004). Some authors argue that organizational culture and policies that promote presence at work can then have the impact of developing presenteeism, and therefore, is very costly.

Impacts of presenteeism for employees

Presenteeism represents a risk factor for workers’ physical and mental health. 

  • Going to work while being sick can put others at risk by contributing to the transmission of infectious diseases. 
  • This attendance behavior has been associated with different health difficulties, such as burnout, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.
  • Presenteeism is also associated with the worsening of physical and psychological symptoms, and by delaying the recovery process, it can eventually lead to more absences.
  • Not respecting our need to stay at home and to take care of our health can also impact our productivity or sense of accomplishment at work, and therefore leading to a diminished sense of work engagement and job satisfaction.

In summary, even though absences from work can hurt an organization, going to work while being ill also can provoke real consequences for both the organization and its employees. It is, therefore, important to recognize signs of suboptimal health and to promote self-care in and outside the workplace. Psychotherapy can be a great place to start to learn how to identify our warning signs, how to assert our needs, and develop acceptance of our limits – and then optimize your health!

Dr. Karine Côté, D.Psy., C.Psych. is a psychologist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR). Dr. Côté provides psychological services to individual adults and couples experiencing a wide range of psychological and relationship difficulties related to mood and anxiety disorders, trauma, eating disorders, sleep disruptions, and interpersonal betrayal. She works from a humanistic approach and integrates therapeutic techniques from gestalt and object relations psychotherapies, emotion-focused therapy (EFT), and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).


Goetzel, R. Z., Long, S. R., Ozminkowski, R. J., Hawkins, K., Wang, S., & Lynch, W. (2004). Health, absence, disability, and presenteeism cost estimates of certain physical and mental health conditions affecting U.S. employers. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 46(4), 398-412. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.jom.0000121151.40413.bd

Going to work while being sick – not always the best policy (part 1)Hemp, P. (2004). Presenteeism: At work—But out of it. Harvard Business Review, 82, 49-58. Retrieved on https://hbr.org/2004/10/presenteeism-at-work-but-out-of-it

Motivation vs. Intention: Do You Lack the Drive to Set Personal or Professional Goals?

by: Erin Leslie, EQ-i Certified | Coach

Are you confused about how to bring about motivation vs. intention? It’s not uncommon to be confused about these difficulties. In our modern society, messages intended to distract us are everywhere. Sometimes these messages try to persuade us to buy into a fad or product. Getting you onto that conveyor belt of attempting to acquire and invest time and money, only to be unfulfilled in the end but to repeat the same cycle. 

Many people today tell me they are unmotivated at work and feel they’ve lost their career direction. More employees than you may think are feeling tired by the daily churn, and they don’t know how to change it! When I meet with them, I typically ask some key questions to see where the lack of interest lies. 

  • Is it due to personal distractions with family or friends?
  • Is it relationship-related issues with team or management?
  • Is it due to pre-existing beliefs or concepts that may need to be renewed?
  • Could it be depression? Have you sought professional consultation?

After some analysis, I find that it is not that many people necessarily lack motivation, but rather have difficulties with intention.

Purpose provides the compass that fuels our minds and bodies to move in a specific direction. Now how do we go about finding purpose? 

It’s quite simple.

I share two important methods of finding intention.

First, volunteer. Don’t think about it; do it. Go out this weekend and find a school, religious organization, municipal supporting event, or service and give your time. 

Volunteering allows your mind to stop focusing on itself. It opens up your thinking towards others and helps you care about an external problem that you may not have considered before. 

Volunteerism exposes you to areas of risk and need in your community and gets you instantly thinking – how can I change some aspect of this outcome into a more positive one? How can I improve the lives of others?

It also gives you the purest sense of intention. Helping, caring, and enabling another human is our foremost purpose. But we forget that sometimes.

Volunteering enhances your beliefs about what is important. It doesn’t require a lot of time or thinking. It requires you to feel and act. That renewed sense of purpose fuels your intention towards your future. 

Secondly, mentorship. I suggest entering a mentorship relationship with a peer or colleague. Mentorship allows us to focus our attention on another person’s inquiry, leveraging our own experience and knowledge to solve a problem and focus away from our own pain points. People find it highly satisfactory to support others ahead of themselves. Still, it is through an interaction of mentoring and helping that often we find the answers to our issues. 

I often say that everyone should mentor as we all have something to offer and learn in this enriching professional relationship. 

Do you specialize in a specific skill set, industry insight, or business strategy or methodology? Someone within or outside your professional circle is looking for guidance, and it only takes a few meetings a month to connect and follow up on a specific area of interest or need. Those meetings could make a real difference in a professional’s work-life. 

Are you ready to better understand and master the mental and emotional parts of striving for a successful career and a balanced life? CFIR’s Career and Workplace Service can help!