Article Date: 3/1/2009

Prescription for "Presenteeism"
staffing solutions

Prescription for "Presenteeism"

BY BOB LEVOY, O.D.

It's a problem more disruptive and costly than absenteeism. It's "presenteeism" — a phenomenon in which contagiously sick employees show up for work. Employees who show up for work when they really aren't up to the task, need to think twice. One reason is the lost productivity that occurs when ill employees perform below par. Another even more serious problem is that while doing their best to stay on the job, contagious employees frequently infect co-workers — not to mention, patients. At times, it's so bad that you see employees cough, sneeze, profusely sweat and respond, "I'm fine," when people inquire about their health.

According to a recent Harris Interactive survey, 56% of employers report that presenteeism is a problem, up from 39% two years earlier. Sick employees push themselves for various reasons. Dedicated employees don't want to let their employer or co-workers down. Others are concerned about losing pay or prefer to save time off. Some want to avoid the feeling of guilt that many employees have (or are made to have) about calling in sick. Then, there are those who would rather annoy their co-workers (and possibly contaminate them) than have their employer question their motives for staying home.

Action steps: A 2005 Commerce Clearing House (CCH) survey asked employers what they're doing to reduce presenteeism. A total of 62% of responding organizations said they send sick employees home; 41% educate employees on the importance of staying home when sick; and 36% try to foster a culture that discourages presenteeism.

These policies obviously result in an office, especially a small one, being understaffed and shorthanded. Cross training is one solution. A cross-trained team can plug critical gaps without you having to hire temporary workers, running up overtime, or stinting on patient services.

Additional benefits:

► It allows employees to gain additional skills, increasing their job satisfaction and earning potential.

► It enables employees to fill in for each other during lunch, vacation or other absences.

► It improves morale by breaking up routine.

► "Cross training is a quality improvement tool," says Chris Kelleher, administrator of a one-physician OB/GYN practice in Columbia, S.C. "When one employee sits in for another, there's a fresh mind in that job. We get many ideas and suggestions from cross-trained people."

► "Cross training uncovers hidden talents," says Helena Dahan, office manager for a four-physician internal medicine practice in Philadelphia, Pa. "Someone who's hired as a receptionist might find she has a knack for coding, or a biller might turn out to be a crackerjack medical assistant. The more a staffer learns, the more she's worth as an employee."

► It eliminates "It's not my job" -type thinking among employees.

► Cross-trained employees gain an understanding of other jobs in the practice. As a result, they better appreciate the difficulties and demands of their co-workers' jobs — thus helping to promote teamwork.

Reality check: Cross training's not for everyone. For example, you can train clinical employees to do clerical jobs, but the process doesn't necessarily work in reverse. "We cross-train every position except those that are either regulated or license-restricted," says Ms. Kelleher. Consider also that some employees may not have the temperament or motivation for cross-training. Forcing the issue may cause resentment. Hard learned lesson: Cross-training starts with hiring the right people who can multitask, want to learn new skills and can shift gears when needed. OM


BOB LEVOY'S NEWEST BOOK "222 SECRETS OF HIRING, MANAGING AND RETAINING GREAT EMPLOYEES IN HEALTHCARE PRACTICES" WAS PUBLISHED BY JONES & BARTLETT PUBLISHERS. YOU CAN REACH HIM BY E-MAIL AT B.LEVOY@ATT.NET.

Optometric Management, Issue: March 2009