A new word for me: presenteeism

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A new word for me: presenteeism

Post by tony h » Mon Apr 28, 2014 10:26 pm

Quite a useful word. There are various definitions around covering various forms of being at work when you shouldn't be where the reasons have a negative connotation eg insecurity, depression etc
Signature: tony

I'm puzzled therefore I think.

Re: A new word for me: presenteeism

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Apr 30, 2014 4:57 am

Tony, This is a new one on me also. According to the Oxford English Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionaries Online, but no one else mentioned this, it is said to be a British usage. A Google Ngram (for what it’s worth) has it appearing about twice as often in British English than in American English. A Google search produced 187,000 hits at my space-time coordinates. And a cursory look at one news archive showed its use to be overwhelmingly British. I did note its absence in Merriam-Webster Online, and Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary and the American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition, 2006). However, it does appear in the American Heritage Dictionary (5th edition, 2013).


PRESENTEEISM noun [1931]: The fact or condition of being present, especially at work; (British) (a) the practice of working more hours than is required by one's terms of employment, or of continuing to work without regard to one's health, especially because of perceived job insecurity; (b) the practice of attending a job but not working at full capacity, especially because of illness or stress. Usually opposed to [[and a play on]] absenteeism.

The OED lists “perceived job insecurity” as a major motivation for presenteeism. Here are some others:

a) One simply loves one’s job.

b) One is trying to impress one’s boss and/or fellow workers.

c) Fear of being considered a slacker.

c) One simply needs the money if overtime is being paid or if one has no paid sick leave.

d) It is part of the corporate culture.

For more than you ever want to know about presenteeism see Wikipedia here.

The following quotes are from the Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources:
<1931 “Certainly he is an absentee. . .—if he adopted the habit of dropping in at the works and making well-meant suggestions . . . , is it likely that his presenteeism would be helpful?”—Everybody’s Business by H. Withers, ix. page 161>

<1943 “The Kaiser Company's public relation officials discovered that the term ‘absenteeism’ irked the people who read it . . . The Kaiser Company . . . changed its policy and praised those who were on the job by using the term ‘presenteeism’.”—National Liquor Review, July, page 4/2> [[Hmm! Kaiser was a U.S. company.]]

<1948 “In addition to trying to decrease absenteeism (and increase ‘presenteeism’), the committees also took steps to reduce labor turnover.”—Contemporary Unionism by C. E. Dankert, xxvi. page 474>

<1989 “Executives might be suffering from levels of stress that impair their performance . . . through what she calls ‘presenteeism’—being at work but not fully available psychologically.”—EuroBusiness, January, page 17/1>

<1994 “[Two employees] are typical of a workforce now motivated by presenteeism—the exact opposite of absenteeism—being at work when you should be at home, either because you are ill or because you are working such long hours that you are no longer effective.”—Sunday Times (London), (News Review section), 16 October, page 8>

<1999 “Deborah Orr . . . rightly identifies the macho culture of presenteeism as an impediment to genuine equality at the workplace and in wider society.”—The Independent (London), (Friday Review), 25 January, page 2/1>

<2004 “Presenteeism At Work--But Out of It: Employers are beginning to realize that they face a nearly invisible but significant drain on productivity: presenteeism, the problem of workers being on the job but, because of illness or other medical conditions, not fully functioning. By some estimates, the phenomenon costs U.S. companies over $150 billion a year--much more than absenteeism does.”—Harvard Business Review, 1 October>

<2005 “You know the feeling -- your throat is scratchy, your cough persistent and your boss a stickler for attendance. Or a deadline looms as your stomach churns. So you pack up the cough drops or Pepto-Bismol and head to the office. And you work at half speed and hope your co-workers don't catch what ails you. HR folks call this growing reality ‘presenteeism’ -- as in the opposite of absenteeism.”—Washington Post (D.C.), 18 October>

<2010 “And job insecurity is breeding self-protection, presenteeism, and a tougher fight to the top for all, according to business advisers PricewaterhouseCoopers.”—Birmingham Mail (England), 9 March>

<2014 “Macho Culture ‘Forces Mothers out of Work’: . . . Many of the women said they found it hard to combine work and motherhood because of the dominant culture of presenteeism - the notion that they should be at their desks until late.”—The Scotsman (Edinburgh), 10 March>

Ken – April 29, 2014

Re: A new word for me: presenteeism

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Wed Apr 30, 2014 8:11 am

Thank you for the usual thorough research, ken.

It's interesting to see how the later examples you give have the pejorative senses, while the earlier ones are positive or unmarked. Are we getting more cynical?

Re: A new word for me: presenteeism

Post by tony h » Wed Apr 30, 2014 7:58 pm

I will second that Mr Ashworth.

I found the word, and found it useful, as we have a debate at work on how to manage work/life balance and sickness. The issue of people feeling that they must be seen to be working is something I observe as having negative effects.
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I'm puzzled therefore I think.

Re: A new word for me: presenteeism

Post by Phil White » Wed Apr 30, 2014 9:04 pm

I picked up on the word in the late 90s or so, and I always felt that it meant being at work for any or all of the following reasons:

a) to impress one's superiors
b) to impress one's colleagues
c) to impress upon one's circle of friends how indispensable a person one is
d) because the corporate culture requires it

I never assumed there was a necessary reduction in performance, i.e. merely being present, but not working efficiently.
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: presenteeism

Post by elview » Thu May 01, 2014 7:04 am

Presenteeism, to me, is being present without being able (or willing) to do the entire job.

A coworker of mine said she tried to call in sick with a fever and was told to take some Tylenol and report for work. Usually our team tries to go in and cover shifts for a sick person but no one was available to cover her shift. I don't appreciate working with sick people and I don't think people can give 100% when they're feeling poorly.

Reporting to work sick or forcing employees to do so is counterproductive...but thanks for giving me the opportunity to stick a new word in my quiver!
Signature: elview
"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." ~ Winston Churchill

Re: A new word for me: presenteeism

Post by Shooorshop » Sat May 03, 2014 4:34 pm

I think the word was swapped for abensteeism, which is: someone finishes so early that they don’t have to be there.

In the military my reserve unit would have something called frontloading drill. Someone could be at work ahead of everyone if they couldn’t be there on a drill weekend.

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