Intended for healthcare professionals


Pressure to work through periods of short term sickness

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 09 June 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3446
  1. Kevin Dew, professor of sociology
  1. 1School of Social and Cultural Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington 6140, New Zealand/Aotearoa
  1. kevin.dew{at}

Can have long term negative effects on health and productivity

Recent research shows that during a period of four weeks a third of doctors and nurses have worked when they should have taken sick leave, and that, on average, this nearly halves their working capacity.1 Presenteeism is the phenomenon of workers turning up to work despite medical conditions that should prevent them from attending.2 Although it has been associated with negative health effects and with loss of productivity, it is only in recent years that presenteeism has gained some focus in research.3 In July 2003 a word search for absenteeism in Web of Science produced 1262 hits, whereas presenteeism produced only 11 hits.4 The same search in May 2011 scored 3388 hits for absenteeism and 287 for presenteeism.

Around 26% of healthcare workers report presenteeism in the past seven days and about 85% of general practitioners and hospital workers report being sick at work some time.5 Research has identified many risk factors for presenteeism, and much more work is needed to determine what factors are modifiable and what sort of impact successful …

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