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Purpose The opposite of absenteeism, presenteeism, is the phenomenon of employees staying at work when they should be off sick. Presenteeism is an important problem for organizations, because employees who turn up for work, when sick, cause a reduction in productivity levels. The central aim of the present study is to examine the longitudinal relationships between job demands, burnout (exhaustion and depersonalization), and presenteeism. We hypothesized that job demands and exhaustion (but not depersonalization) would lead to presenteeism, and that presenteeism would lead to both exhaustion and depersonalization over time. Design/methodology/approach The hypotheses were tested in a sample of 258 staff nurses who filled out questionnaires at three measurement points with 1.5 years in‐between the waves. Findings Results were generally in line with predictions. Job demands caused more presenteeism, while depersonalization was an outcome of presenteeism over time. Exhaustion and presenteeism were found to be reciprocal, suggesting that when employees experience exhaustion, they mobilize compensation strategies, which ultimately increases their exhaustion. Research limitations/implications These findings suggest that presenteeism can be seen as a risk‐taking organizational behavior and shows substantial longitudinal relationships with job demands and burnout. Practical implications The study suggests that presenteeism should be prevented at the workplace. Originality/value The expected contribution of the manuscript is not only to put presenteeism on the research agenda but also to make both organizations and scientists attend to its detrimental effects on employees' wellbeing and (consequently) on the organization.
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Present but sick: a three-wave
study on job demands,
presenteeism and burnout
Evangelia Demerouti and Pascale M. Le Blanc
Department of Social and Organizational Psychology, Utrecht University,
Utrecht, The Netherlands
Arnold B. Bakker
Department of Work and Organizational Psychology,
Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Wilmar B. Schaufeli
Department of Social and Organizational Psychology, Utrecht University,
Utrecht, The Netherlands, and
Joop Hox
Department of Methods and Statistics, Utrecht University,
Utrecht, The Netherlands
Abstract
Purpose – The opposite of absenteeism, presenteeism, is the phenomenon of employees staying at
work when they should be off sick. Presenteeism is an important problem for organizations, because
employees who turn up for work, when sick, cause a reduction in productivity levels. The central aim
of the present study is to examine the longitudinal relationships between job demands, burnout
(exhaustion and depersonalization), and presenteeism. We hypothesized that job demands and
exhaustion (but not depersonalization) would lead to presenteeism, and that presenteeism would lead
to both exhaustion and depersonalization over time.
Design/methodology/approach The hypotheses were tested in a sample of 258 staff nurses who
filled out questionnaires at three measurement points with 1.5 years in-between the waves.
Findings – Results were generally in line with predictions. Job demands caused more presenteeism,
while depersonalization was an outcome of presenteeism over time. Exhaustion and presenteeism were
found to be reciprocal, suggesting that when employees experience exhaustion, they mobilize
compensation strategies, which ultimately increases their exhaustion.
Research limitations/implications – These findings suggest that presenteeism can be seen as a
risk-taking organizational behavior and shows substantial longitudinal relationships with job
demands and burnout.
Practical implications – The study suggests that presenteeism should be prevented at the
workplace.
Originality/value – The expected contribution of the manuscript is not only to put presenteeism on
the research agenda but also to make both organizations and scientists attend to its detrimental effects
on employees’ wellbeing and (consequently) on the organization.
Keywords Stress, Jobs, Absenteeism
Paper type Research paper
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/1362-0436.htm
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Received 1 October 2008
Revised 4 October 2008
Accepted 12 October 2008
Career Development International
Vol. 14 No. 1, 2009
pp. 50-68
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
1362-0436
DOI 10.1108/13620430910933574
Many people will recognize the feeling that one must show up for work even when too
stressed or sick to be productive. Presenteeism is defined as “...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.” (Cooper, 1996, p. 15). While presenteeism seems
attractive for organizations at first glance, employers are beginning to realize that it
represents a “silent” but significant drain on productivity. Some authors even suggest
that presenteeism costs companies much more than absenteeism does (e.g., Hemp,
2004). Yet, only a handful of studies have examined its causes and virtually no study
examined its consequences. The central aim of the present study is to investigate the
longitudinal relationships between job demands, (sickness) presenteeism, and burnout
among hospital nurses, who are known for having high rates of presenteeism
(Aronsson et al., 2000).
Our basic assumption is that high job demands will evoke pressure to attend work
while employees actually feel sick, which can be viewed, from the self-regulation
perspective, as an attempt to avoid performance decrements (Demerouti et al., 2005;
Hockey, 1993). However, eventually, presenteeism will give rise to feelings of burnout
due to inadequate recovery (see Meijman and Mulder, 1998). Employees may thus get
trapped in a “loss spiral” (Hobfoll and Freedy, 1993), as symptoms of burnout, in turn,
lead to an accumulation of job demands and less energy to cope with these demands.
This will again result in more presenteeism, and so on.
Presenteeism
In the present study, we focus on sickness presenteeism specifically, designating the
phenomenon of people who, despite complaints and ill health that should prompt rest
and absence from work, are still turning up at their jobs (Aronsson et al., 2000). From
the scarce empirical evidence it can be concluded that more than half of the employees
ever worked when they could legitimately report sick (Roe, 2003). There are several
reasons why employees go to work while they are actually sick, including perceived
pressure from colleagues not to let them down and cause them more work, a “trigger
point” system providing incentives for attendance, the fear that sick leave will put
promotion opportunities at risk, and the fear of dismissal (Grinyer and Singleton, 2000;
McKevitt et al., 1998). Apart from such motives, there are also positive reasons why
people continue to work when they could stay at home sick, for example, interesting
and stimulating work and good relationships with colleagues and clients (Roe, 2003).
Presenteeism also seems to be dependent on the type of health complaints employees
experience, i.e. whether the complaint is serious enough to be considered as a legitimate
excuse to stay at home sick. The highest proportion of presenteeism is exhibited by
persons with upper back/neck pain, feelings of fatigue and slight depression (Aronsson
et al., 2000).
From the time that presenteeism was first identified, scientists view it as negative
organizational behavior. Presenteeism is considered as risk behavior for employees
themselves, because by repeatedly postponing sickness leave that may effectively
resolve minor illnesses, more serious illnesses may develop (Grinyer and Singleton,
2000). Moreover, Roe (2003) has argued that presenteeism may have negative
consequences for organizations in two ways. First, individual performance may suffer
since sick employees may only be able to produce the same output as healthy
colleagues by investing more time or effort. Second, collective performance may suffer
Presenteeism
51
because workers become involved in helping sick colleagues, or because sick
employees may pass on infectious illnesses to their colleagues and clients.
Existing studies have been concerned with identifying the prevalence of
presenteeism, or the factors that contribute to it (e.g., Grinyer and Singleton, 2000).
The current study is the first to test the hypothesis that presenteeism is predicted by
working conditions (i.e. job demands) and is reciprocal to stress symptoms (i.e.
burnout) over time. While presenteeism can also be viewed more positively, i.e. a type
of organizational citizenship behavior, our basic tenet is that presenteeism will
ultimately be counterproductive as it will lead to a deterioration of employee health.
Because existing knowledge of the phenomenon is still limited, we will base our
hypotheses on the available literature from adjacent domains.
Job demands and presenteeism
One of the popular explanations of sickness absence considers absence as a rational
decision toward goal attainment (Johansson and Lundberg, 2004; Nicholson, 1977).
Specifically, absence is viewed as rational behavior determined by cost-benefit
evaluations associated with the possible outcomes of the alternative behavior, namely
presenteeism. Next to the vital role of individual cost-benefit evaluations, Johansson
and Lundberg (2004) emphasize the role of the work environment as a constraint that
may limit individual choices. Constraints are presence-inducing situations or demands
for attendance including both positively valued factors (e.g., rewards for low absence),
and negative factors (e.g., individual financial position). The focus in this study is
placed on job demands for two reasons. First, if we demonstrate that job demands,
presenteeism and burnout are positively related over time, job demands can be a
pretext of workplace interventions and therefore of improvement. Second, job demands
in general (Kivima
¨ki et al., 2005) but also specific demands like time pressure,
conflicting demands (Aronsson and Gustafsson, 2005) and work pressure (European
Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, 2003) are found to
be positively related to presenteeism.
Job demands refer to those physical, social or organizational aspects of the job that
require sustained physical and/or psychological (i.e. cognitive or emotional) effort on
the part of the employee and are therefore associated with certain physiological and/or
psychological costs (e.g., exhaustion) (Demerouti et al., 2001). Although job demands
are not necessarily negative, they may turn into job stressors when meeting those
demands requires additional effort while the employee has not adequately recovered
from previous work sequences (Meijman and Mulder, 1998). In present study we
include a classical and more general measure of job demands (see Karasek, 1998), i.e.
workload, and two demands that are typical for the nursing profession, namely patient
demands and physical demands (Bakker et al., 2003).
Our assumption is that job demands enhance the propensity of employees to work
on days that they actually feel sick. Since job demands have to be met in order to
perform adequately, employees will be inclined to do everything they can to meet these
demands so that their performance remains at the desired level. According to Hobfoll
(2001), demanding characteristics of work result in loss because they draw on people’s
resources. When losses occur, people apply resource conservation strategies (based on
anticipated outcomes) by investing resources available to them in order to adapt
successfully (Hobfoll, 2001). Therefore, we expect that the higher the job demands, the
higher the effort employees will invest in meeting them and the higher the probability
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that they will work while sick in order to avoid performance decrements (i.e. resource
loss). From this point of view, job demands not only imply feeling pressure to work
harder, but also feeling pressure to attend.
H1. Job demands lead to presenteeism.
Presenteeism and burnout
Burnout is defined as a multifaceted syndrome of emotional exhaustion,
depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment (Maslach et al., 2001).
Evidence of the past decade consistently suggests that (reduced) personal
accomplishment shows a relatively low correlation with the core dimensions of
burnout, i.e. exhaustion and cynicism (Green et al., 1991), and a different pattern of
correlations with other variables (e.g., Lee and Ashforth, 1996). Also, it has been
considered as a personality construct (Shirom, 2003). Due to this ambivalent nature of
personal accomplishment, we followed Schaufeli and Bakker’s (2004) recommendation
and included only the core dimensions of burnout.
Burnout represents a chronic ongoing reaction to one’s work and a negative
affective response to prolonged stress (Shirom and Melamed, 2005), which is not
immediately reversible after changes in tasks or the working conditions and by
adequate recuperation. The chronic nature of burnout is illustrated by a recent
longitudinal epidemiological study among a representative sample of over 12,000
Dutch employees that estimated the average duration of severe burnout to be about 2.5
years (Kant et al., 2004).
Does presenteeism lead to burnout in the long run? Our assumption is that this will
indeed be the case, according to the following mechanism: When employees feel sick,
their performance at work is under threat (Wright and Cropanzano, 1998). In order to
reach the desired performance standards, they will use performance protection
strategies (Hockey, 1993). Among the strategies that employees can use, those that are
of particular relevance to the present study are to invest more effort in order to perform
as good as healthy employees and not to stay sick at home. In this way, they can try to
minimize their resource losses related to their sickness (see Hobfoll, 2001). However,
sickness presence impairs physical and psychological recuperation and recovery after
strain or disease.
Meijman and Mulder (1998) suggest that if opportunities for recovery , e.g. from
work-related fatigue during the non-working period are insufficient, one’s
psychobiological systems remain activated and recovery to homeostatic levels may
not be achieved (also known as sustained activation; Ursin, 1980). The employee, who
is still in a sub-optimal state, will thus have to make additional (compensatory) efforts
during the next working period. As a result, negative load effects accumulate, leading
to a further draining of one’s energy, and chronic fatigue or even a to a total
breakdown. Thus, presenteeism, because of its potential for reducing recovery, is likely
to lead, in the long run, to higher levels of exhaustion. Alternatively, sickness absence
could be health-promoting since it would facilitate recuperation following strain or
disease (Aronsson and Gustafsson, 2005). Moreover, because of inadequate
recuperation, employees may develop negative attitudes towards their work
(towards patients in the case of nurses) and thus develop depersonalization over
time (Sonnentag, 2005).
Presenteeism
53
While there is no empirical evidence yet that presenteeism leads to burnout, we do
know that sufficient recovery during the weekend decreases burnout complaints and
fosters general well-being after the weekend (Fritz and Sonnentag, 2005). Thus, staying
away from work contributes to the reduction of burnout. The only study that shows
the effects of presenteeism on health is the eight-year prospective study of Kivima
¨ki
et al. (2005) among male civil servants. The incidents of serious coronary events was,
after correction for conventional risk factors, twice as high among unhealthy
employees with no sickness absenteeism as among unhealthy employees with
moderate levels of sickness absenteeism reflecting the adverse consequences of
working while ill. Hence, working while ill may produce a cumulative psychological
burden with psycho-physiological consequences. Thus, we formulated the following
hypotheses:
H2a. Presenteeism leads to emotional exhaustion.
H2b. Presenteeism leads to depersonalization.
In principle, feeling exhausted does not prevent employees from remaining fully
occupied with their work, in order to reach company and/or personal goals. This is
illustrated by Demerouti et al. (2005), who found that the in-role performance of
salespersons who experienced elevated levels of exhaustion did not differ from the
performance of non-burnout employees. It is likely that the former spent more effort
than the latter so that, in the long run, they may exhaust their energy and eventually
may burn out. However, for the time being, they are still at work and their performance
is not yet decreased. Given the importance of the job resource “relationship with
recipients” (for service providers), employees who experience emotional exhaustion
will be inclined to limit their losses, and will work harder to compensate for their
feelings of exhaustion (Freudenberger and Richelson, 1980). Similarly, Freudenberger
(1974) observed that employees who are prone to burn out work too much, too long and
too intensively because they feel pressure both from within and outside of work. Thus,
presenteeism can be viewed as a performance protection strategy (see Hockey, 1993)
utilized by employees to avoid decrements in primary task performance in case of
fatigue and consequently to avoid resource losses (Hobfoll, 2001). This leads to the
following hypothesis.
H3. Feelings of exhaustion lead to presenteeism. Taken together, H2a and H3
imply that presenteeism and exhaustion are reciprocal.
Employees who develop negative attitudes towards patients (i.e. depersonalization) are
presumably better able to compartmentalize their remaining resources (e.g., energy,
time, effort) than exhausted employees. They will invest their efforts in important
tasks and ignore less obvious job requirements. Indeed, it has been shown that
depersonalization is at par with diminished extra-role performance, e.g. voluntary
behavior towards colleagues, but not with reductions in in-role performance (Bakker
et al., 2004; Demerouti et al., 2005). Such employees provide services to patients
(because this belongs to their important tasks) but, simultaneously, they use strategies
like derogating, stereotyping and blaming their patients, thus creating a psychological
distance in order to protect themselves (Schaufeli and Enzmann, 1998). Therefore, we
expect that depersonalization towards patients will not perpetuate presenteeism.
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Burnout and job demands
The relationship between specific job demands (e.g., workload and emotional
demands) and exhaustion has been observed frequently (see Lee and Ashforth, 1996).
Moreover, recent research shows that (self-reported and observed) job demands may
have a strong (longitudinal) impact on exhaustion (Demerouti et al., 2001; Demerouti
et al., 2004). Specific job demands such as quantitative demands (Peeters and Le Blanc,
2001) or stressful events (Lee and Ashforth, 1996) have been found to be related to
depersonalization (though not as strong as to emotional exhaustion). In addition, the
literature on “emotion work”, which is defined as the requirement to display
organizationally desired emotions towards clients (Zapf et al., 2001), shows that hiding
or faking feelings towards service recipients is uniquely related to depersonalization
(Brotherridge and Grandey, 2002).
Conversely, some studies have shown that job strain, including burnout, may also
have an impact on job demands over time. In their review, Zapf et al. (1996) identified
six out of 16 longitudinal studies, which showed reversed causal relationships between
working conditions and strain. More recent studies provide additional evidence for
reversed causation;, e.g. between depersonalization and the quality of the
doctor-patient relationship (Bakker et al., 2000), and between exhaustion and work
pressure (Demerouti et al., 2004).
One possible explanation for reversed causal effects is that the behaviors of
employees experiencing strain or disengagement place additional demands upon them
like exhausted employees who fall behind with their work (Demerouti et al., 2004) or
depersonalized employees evoking more stressful and difficult interactions with their
future customers (e.g., Bakker et al., 2000). Another explanation is that job demands
may also be affected by employees’ perceptions of the working environment (Zapf et al.,
1996). Burned-out employees may evaluate job demands more critically and complain
more often about their workload, thus creating a negative work climate (Bakker and
Schaufeli, 2000). On the basis of this overview, we formulated the last hypotheses (see
Figure 1 for an overview of the hypotheses):
H4a. Job demands and emotional exhaustion are reciprocal.
H4b. Job demands and depersonalization are reciprocal.
Method
Participants and procedure
The data were collected as part of a research project on work-related well-being of staff
nurses in general hospitals in The Netherlands. Participants were approached three
times to fill out a questionnaire; between Time 1 and Time 2 there was an interval of
one year and between Time 2 and 3 of half a year. With the first questionnaire,
participants received an information letter in which the aims of our study were
explained and confidentiality was assured. A postage-paid, addressed envelope was
provided for the return of completed questionnaires to the research team. In total, a
sample of 1,060 nurses was approached for participation at T1, of which 781 (74
percent) returned the first questionnaire. One year later, at T2, 166 of the 781 nurses
that responded at T1 had left because of a job transfer. Of the 615 second
questionnaires that were sent out, 385 (63 percent) were returned. The third
questionnaire was distributed among 615 nurses and returned by 323 (53 percent).
Presenteeism
55
Some questionnaires had missing values, leaving 258 usable questionnaires that had
been filled out during all three measurements. The sample included 196 women (76
percent) and 62 men (24 percent). Their mean age was 37 years (SD ¼8:5) and mean
organizational tenure was 7.5 years (SD ¼6:1).
Measures
Job demands: quantitative demands (workload). Job demands: quantitative demands
(workload) were measured by a ten-item scale based on an original scale by Furda
(1995) and assessed, e.g. how often respondents are confronted with demands like:
“having to work under time pressure”, “having to provide care to many different
patients at the same time”. Items are scored on a five-point Likert scale, ranging from
(1) “not at all” to (5) “extremely often”.
Patient demands. This 12-item scale was based on an original scale by Herschbach
(1992) assessed the extent to which respondents were confronted with demands such as
“questions from patients that you cannot answer”, “patients that want to control
everything that you do”. Items are scored on a five-point Likert scale, ranging from (1)
“not at all” to (5) “extremely often”.
Physical demands. Physical demands were assessed with one item: “My job is
physically demanding”. Participants could respond to this item using a five-point
rating scale ranging from (1) “totally disagree” to (5) “totally agree”.
Burnout. The Dutch version (Schaufeli and Van Dierendonck, 2000) of the Maslach
Burnout Inventory Human Services Survey (Maslach et al., 1996) was used to
measure the two core dimensions of burnout, i.e. emotional exhaustion and
depersonalization. The emotional exhaustion subscale includes eight items,
including “I feel emotionally drained from my work”. The item “Working with
people directly puts too much stress on me” was omitted in the Dutch version since it
Figure 1.
The hypothesized
three-wave model of
presenteeism
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does not load on the intended exhaustion factor, and thus creates problems with
factorial validity (see also Byrne, 1993). The depersonalization subscale includes five
items, for example, “I don’t really care what happens to some patients”. The items of
both burnout dimensions were scored on a seven-point frequency scale, ranging from
(0) “never” to (6) “every day”.
Presenteeism. The focal question on presenteeism was: “Has it happened over the
previous 12 months that you have gone to work despite feeling sick?” (Aronsson et al.,
2000) There were two response options: 0 ¼“no” and 1 ¼“yes”. Since presenteeism
items inevitably require retrospective recalling of information using longer time
frames (in order for presenteeism to appear), we did not ask employees to report the
frequency with which they exhibited this behavior in order to minimize response errors
(due to the need to recall easy to forget situations).
General health. General health at time 1 was included as a control variable in order
to minimize the possibility that the reported relationships are confounded by an
impaired health status and thus do not represent true relationships between the
constructs (Johansson and Lundberg, 2004). General health was measured by means of
one item “In general, how is your health status” with response categories ranging from
“bad” (1) to “excellent” (5). Answers were reversed coded such that a higher score
indicates a worse health status. This question has proven to be both reliable and valid
(Lundberg and Manderbacka, 1996).
Results
Non-response analysis
The panel group had comparable tenure with the dropouts (t¼21:43; p,0.10), and
there were no significant differences in gender distribution (x2¼2:29, p,0.10). The
panel group was only slightly older than the dropouts (M¼37:26 v. M¼35:73;
t¼22:38; p,0.05). Moreover, there were no significant differences between the
panel group and the dropouts with regard to the mean levels of the study variables.
The panel group did score slightly higher on Time 2 patient demands than the
dropouts (M¼1:77 v. M¼1:66; t¼22;17; p,0.05), but the mean difference was
less than one-third of the standard deviation. Based on these results, we concluded that
the dropouts were comparable to the panel group and that no serious selection
problems due to panel loss had occurred.
Descriptives
As can be seen in Table I, all scales show satisfactory reliabilities, save one exception.
The internal consistency of the depersonalization scale was less than optimal, i.e.
Cronbach’s alpha’s ranged between 0.62 (T3) and 0.68 (T2) (for similar findings see Lee
and Ashforth, 1996; Schaufeli and Enzmann, 1998). However, as with most of the other
model variables, depersonalization was stable over time. Test-retest reliabilities for all
study variables including presenteeism were higher than 0.58 ( p,0.01), indicating
that the constructs are rather stable. At each measurement point about 50 percent of
the employees agreed that they had come to work when they were sick; 29 percent
answered yes at all measurement points while 23 percent reported that they never
came to work when sick. In an additional analysis, we found that employees who
reported presenteeism at each measurement wave also had significantly more often
experienced loss of appetite, sleeplessness, fatigue as well as stomach aches, tremor,
Presenteeism
57
Mean SD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
1. Gender 0.74 0.44
2. General health 1 1.82 0.72 0.01
3. Physical demands 1 3.25 1.01 0.11 0.18**
4. Workload 1 2.75 0.76 0.05 0.17** 0.43** 0.85
5. Patient demands 1 1.77 0.56 0.08 0.10 0.29** 0.44** 0.82
6. Emot. exhaustion 1 20.41 0.86 20.01 0.30** 0.26** 0.44** 0.10 0.86
7. Depersonalization 1 1.86 0.58 20.07 0.16** 0.19** 0.32** 0.31** 0.38** 0.64
8. Presenteeism 1a 20.04 20.13*0.36** 0.10 0.15*20.01 0.28** 20.01
9. Physical demands 2 3.23 0.94 0.04 0.10 0.65** 0.32** 0.28** 0.13*0.10 0.06
10. Workload 2 2.83 0.79 0.02 0.09 0.31** 0.74** 0.31** 0.35** 0.24** 0.17** 0.36** 0.85
11. Patient demands 2 1.77 0.56 0.15*0.06 0.16** 0.29** 0.59** 0.10 0.24** 0.01 0.28** 0.40** 0.80
12. Emot. exhaustion 2 2.56 0.95 0.01 0.25** 0.13*0.36** 0.12*0.66** 0.31** 0.28** 0.20** 0.43** 0.19** 0.87
13. Depersonalization 2 1.93 0.65 20.06 0.21** 0.07 0.26** 0.28** 0.36** 0.58** 0.13*0.10 0.31** 0.32** 0.50** 0.68
14. Presenteeism 2a 0.00 20.16** 0.27** 0.13*0.25** 20.06 0.38** 0.08 0.58** 0.17** 0.25** 20.02 0.51** 0.18*
15. Physical demands 3 3.22 0.94 0.12*0.12*0.62** 0.31** 0.15*0.12*0.08 0.01 0.67** 0.30** 0.10 0.15*0.07 0.10
16. Workload 3 2.86 0.76 20.01 0.10 0.32** 0.71** 0.30** 0.38** 0.30** 0.16** 0.32** 0.83** 0.33** 0.41** 0.30** 0.25** 0.33** 0.83
17. Patient demands 3 1.75 0.58 0.09 0.11 0.15*0.29** 0.62** 0.10 0.32** 0.01 0.21** 0.36** 0.64** 0.22** 0.37** 20.01 0.16*0.39** 0.85
18. Emot. exhaustion 3 2.59 0.94 20.02 0.23** 0.15*0.32** 0.09 0.65** 0.28** 0.26** 0.14*0.35** 0.11 0.71** 0.34** 0.41** 0.12 0.44** 0.08 0.90
19. Depersonalization 3 1.93 0.62 20.05 0.20** 0.16** 0.30** 0.25** 0.43** 0.55** 20.03 0.16** 0.26** 0.25** 0.48** 0.64** 0.23** 0.11 0.30** 0.25** 0.53** 0.62
20. Presenteeism 3a 0.00 20.18** 0.22** 0.11 0.18** 0.09 0.29** 0.12*0.58** 0.17** 0.27** 0.18** 0.28** 0.21** 0.60** 20.02 0.32** 0.09 0.48** 0.28**
Notes: *p,0.05; ** p,0.01;
a
The correlations between presenteeism and the study variables are tetrachorical and their means represent thresholds
Table I.
Means, standard
deviations, correlations,
and internal consistencies
(Cronbach’s alpha; on the
diagonal) of the study
variables, (n¼258)
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heart palpations, dizziness and headaches. This substantiates that what employees
considered as sickness was not a minor but rather a considerable health problem.
Preliminary analyses revealed that gender was the only sociodemographic
characteristic that was related to presenteeism such that men reported more
presenteeism than women at T2 and T3 (T1 x
2
(1 dfÞ¼2:91, n.s.; T2 x
2
(1 dfÞ¼4:14,
p,0.05; T3 x
2
(1 dfÞ¼5:21, p,0.05). Therefore, we controlled for gender in the
subsequent analyses.
Longitudinal analysis
The model including all hypothesized relationships was tested with cross-lagged
structural equation modeling (SEM) analyses using the Mplus software package
(Muthe
´n and Muthe
´n, 1998) because it easily accommodates both continuous and
categorical variables simultaneously in the same analysis (Vandenberg, 2006). We
used weighted least square parameter estimates (WLSMV), which is appropriate when
dependent variables are categorical (see presenteeism). The proposed model includes a
latent “job demands” factor (indicated by workload, patient demands and physical
demands), and emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and presenteeism as observed
variables for each of the three measurement waves. Temporal stabilities were specified
as correlations between model variables for each possible pair of waves. Synchronous
relationships were specified as correlations between job demands, emotional
exhaustion, depersonalization and presenteeism within each wave[1].
The measurement errors of the observed variables collected at different time points
were allowed to co-vary over time (including the indicators of the latent variable job
demands) (Pitts, West and Tein, 1996). Moreover, the measurement model of job
demands was assumed to be invariant over time, i.e. the factor loadings of each
manifest variable were constrained to be equal in each measurement time. Further, we
imposed the restriction that the correlations between latent factor “job demands” were
equal cross the three measurement waves. Such equality constraints are necessary for
computation reasons (Zapf et al., 1996).
The model includes the following paths between T1-T2, T2-T3 and T1-T3
variables: job demands ( emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, presenteeism;
presenteeism ( emotional exhaustion, depersonalization; emotional exhaustion (
presenteeism; emotional exhaustion, depersonalization ( job demands (see Figure 1).
Finally, the model includes gender and general health at T1 as two control variables.
Both control variables were allowed to correlate with the T1 variables and had
cross-lagged effects on T2 and T3 job demands, presenteeism and burnout.
In general, the model yielded a satisfactory fit to the data, chi square (33
dfÞ¼98:56, RMSEA ¼0:08, TLI ¼0:91, CFI ¼0:85. The resulting significant paths
are displayed in Figure 2.
In line with H1, we found one significant effect of T2 job demands on T3 presen teeism.
However, the two other panel paths were non-significant in Model 1. Thus, we found only
partial support for H1. T1 emotional exhaustion had positive effects on both T2 and T3
presenteeism, whereas T2 presenteeism showed positive relationsh ips with T3 emotional
exhaustion, respectively. Taken together, these findings provide partial support for H2a
and H3 implying that exhaustion and presenteeism are reciprocal over time. Thus,
presenteeism leads to more exhaustion in a shorter time lag (i.e. six months), and
exhaustion leads to increased presenteeism over time.
Presenteeism
59
As results indicate, T1 and T2 presenteeism have significant relationships with T3
depersonalization, corroborating H2b. While the second path was positive (i.e. the more
presenteeism the more depersonalization over time), the first path (T1 presenteeism ( T3
depersonalization) was negative which is not in the expected direction. Because the
correlation between T1 presenteeism and T3 depersonalization is zero, the effect is most
probably a statistical artifact known as the suppresso r effect (Maassen and Bakker, 2001)
and therefore it is not further taken into consideration. Moreover, adding the paths from
depersonalization to presenteeism in the model did not result in a significantly better
model (Dx
2
(2 dfÞ¼3:76, n.s.) and none of the respective paths was significant. As
expected, depersonalization does not lead to more presenteeism over time.
T1 emotional exhaustion and depersonalization had significant positive effects on T2
job demands and T1 depersonalization had an additional positive effect on T3 job
demands. Simultaneously, T1 job demands have a significant, positive effect on T2 and
T3 emotional exhaustion and depersonalization and T2 job demands have an effect on
both T3 burnout dimensions. These findings suggest that job demands increase feelings
of exhaustion and depersonalization (i.e. burnout), and that burnout increases job
demands over time. In conclusion, consistent with H4a and H4b, we found significant
cross-lagged reciprocal relationships between job demands and both burnout
dimensions. Note, however, that T2 burnout had no effect on the T3 job demands.
1
Thus, all four hypotheses were generally supported. However, as can be seen in
Figure 2, the hypothesized panel paths were not significant for all waves. One out of
the three hypothesized longitudinal paths was significant for H1. Similarly, one out
of the three hypothesized longitudinal paths was significant for H2a,H2b, implying
that the longitudinal impact of presenteeism on burnout mainly takes place within a
shorter time lag. For H3, two out of three hypothesized longitudinal paths were
Figure 2.
Standardized solution
(maximum likelihood
estimates) of the
three-wave model of
presenteeism, N¼258
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60
significant suggesting a substantial influence of emotional exhaustion on
presenteeism. Four out of the six hypothesized longitudinal paths were significant
for H4a and for H4b. In general, the longitudinal influence of job demands on burnout
seems to be stronger than the other way around. Finally, both control variables, T1
general health and gender, were significantly related to presenteeism (positively and
negatively, respectively) only at the third wave.
Discussion
This study examined how job demands, burnout and presenteeism are related over
time. Our central assumption was that job demands lead to presenteeism and burnout,
and that presenteeism intensifies the experience of burnout in the long run. To study
these relationships, we adopted a three-wave panel design, which may reveal a better
understanding of the concept of presenteeism.
Presenteeism
Our analyses confirm that emotional exhaustion and presenteeism are reciprocal, since
T1 exhaustion led to T2 presenteeism which in turn caused more exhaustion at T3. As
predicted, because of efforts to compensate for the negative effects of progressive
energy depletion (on performance), emotional exhaustion led to inappropriate non-use
of sick leave over time, which in turn resulted in enhanced feelings of exhaustion. It is
plausible to assume that appropriate use of sick leave is health promoting insofar as it
provides the opportunity for physical and mental recuperation after strain or illness
(Aronsson et al., 2000). Not surprisingly, research provides increasing evidence (e.g.,
McEwen, 1998) that a lack of recuperation after episodes of strain makes up an
important linking mechanism between stress and ill-health (Ursin, 1980). Presenteeism
may not be a smart strategy to compensate for decrements in performance due to
energy depletion, because it may ultimately lead to a further deterioration in
employees’ mental and physical condition, confirming the notion of loss spirals
(Hobfoll and Freedy, 1993), as well as to employees working less efficiently, making
even more mistakes at work, and (depending on their symptoms) passing on their
sickness to colleagues and/or clients. Thus, although presenteeism may be seen as a
sign of high commitment, it is ultimately detrimental for both employee well-being and
the quality of care, i.e. the fundamental requirement of health professions.
In line with our prediction, presenteeism led to more depersonalization half year
later but depersonalization was unrelated to the (forced) attending behavior of
employees. A depersonalized attitude towards patients did not drive employees to be at
work (when they could be at home sick) and thus have more contact with their patients.
By comparison, these employees probably tend to invest the minimum efforts that are
required to meet the expected targets (e.g., to provide the daily medication and care),
and distance themselves emotionally from their patients. Depersonalization has been
viewed as a way of protecting oneself from intense emotional arousal (due to contact
with clients) that could interfere with functioning effectively on the job (Maslach et al.,
2001). This might be a useful short-term strategy to manage depleted resources, but it
is not effective in the long run, since, over time, depersonalization leads to higher job
demands (Bakker et al., 2000).
Our findings suggest that the perception of high job demands induces pressure to
work through sicknesses over time (Aronsson and Gustafsson, 2005) though the role of
job demands was not as prevalent as expected (see the non-significant path from T1
Presenteeism
61
job demands to T2 and T3 presenteeism). This finding is important from the
perspective of job design and underscores that presenteeism does not solely result from
internal (e.g. feeling irreplaceable) but also from work-related pressures. Perhaps the
nurses in the present study, like the doctors in the study of McKevitt et al. (1998),
worked through illness because they believed that work could not wait or be delegated.
Also the studies of Grinyer and Singleton’s (2000) and Dew et al. (2005) emphasized
economic and social constraints, the organization of work and workplace cultures and
ethic as forces promoting presenteeism by influencing the (more or less forced) choice
of employees to work when sick.
All reported relationships between job demands, presenteeism and burnout were
independent of the general health of employees, since in the initial level (T1) of general
health was controlled for. Employees with a worse health status at Time 1 reported
more presenteeism over time (Burton et al., 2006) but not more burnout. Thus, general
health influences over time the decision to work when sick and can be viewed as a
starting point for deciding between staying sick at home or going to work (Johansson
and Lundberg, 2004). Contrary to Aronsson’s findings (Aronsson et al., 2000; Aronsson
and Gustafsson, 2005) where women tended to show slightly higher presenteeism than
men, we found that men were more likely to report presenteeism than women did. This
difference might be explained by the fact that our sample mainly consisted of female
nurses while Aronsson’s studies were conducted among representative samples.
Burnout and job demands
Our findings are consistent with several authors’ claims that job demands are causally
related to emotional exhaustion (e.g., Lee and Ashforth, 1996; Schaufeli and Enzmann,
1998), although some of the cross-lagged relationships were nonsignificant. Job
demands where also related to increased depersonalization over time, which partly
contradicts some previous findings in which depersonalization was more an outcome
of lack of resources (Demerouti et al., 2001). One explanation for this finding is that in
contrast to earlier studies, the present study included emotional demands i.e. patient
demands, which are probably the most important, context-specific reason why
employees become depersonalized towards patients (Bakker et al., 2000). Taken
together, these findings imply that nurses who are exposed to demanding patients, a
high workload and physical demands become fatigued and impersonal, and develop
negative attitudes towards their patients. This is an alarming finding, since it may
signal deterioration in the quality of care.
Additionally, the present study provides evidence for the reversed causation
hypothesis, and points at a ‘loss spiral’ of burnout. Both burnout components,
emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, had lagged, positive effects on job
demands (though not between T2 and T3). The findings are also consistent with
results of earlier longitudinal studies where emotional exhaustion was a predictor of
psychological job demands (De Jonge et al., 2001), and future work overload (Leiter and
Durup, 1996) and depersonalization predicted the intensity and frequency of patient
demands over time (Bakker et al., 2000).
Limitations and critical notes
A serious weakness of the present research concerns the single-item measure of
presenteeism that can be criticized for having unknown error variance and for
providing no information as to when or why individuals go to work while sick. Our
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measure corresponds to that of previous studies (Aronsson et al., 2000; European
Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, 2003) and shows a
high test-retest reliability (.0.58). This suggests that the measurement error should
not be a serious threat for the presenteeism item (otherwise answers would have given
inconsistent and unrelated over time). Our aim was to investigate whether
presenteeism as a behavior pattern or lifestyle (in which symptoms of ill health are
ignored and medical care not sought; Kivima
¨ki et al., 2005) would lead to burnout and
unfavorable changes in job demands irrespective of its frequency. Wanous et al. (1997,
p. 247) suggest that if “the construct being measured is sufficiently narrow or is
unambiguous to the respondent, a single-item measure may suffice”. The convergent
validity between single-item and multi-item measures has been confirmed for overall
job satisfaction (Wanous et al., 1997) and for global satisfaction (Diener, 1984).
Moreover, comparing the study of Boles et al. (2004) who used a one-item measure of
presenteeism (though different from our measure) with the study of Burton et al. (2005)
who used an eight-item measure of presenteeism, shows that results of both studies
were similar. This suggests that the one-item measure of Boles et al. (2004), adequately
uncovers the underlying relationships. While the use of a well-constructed scale is
crucial, single-item scales should not be considered a fatal flaw. However, the
development of sophisticated, more detailed and, if possible, more objective measures
of presenteeism is strongly encouraged. For example, studying incidents of
presenteeism collected by means of diaries could uncover additional reasons why
people choose to work through sickness and could help the development of a valid
presenteeism scale.
A second limitation is that all variables were exclusively measured with self-report
instruments which might cause biases due to common method variance. However, such
influences should be more likely in cross-sectional rather than across-time studies
because only a few participants might be able to recall their Time 1 scores during the
second or the third wave of the study. A final limitation is the study population which
consisted of hospital nurses only, and thus the question is to what extent the results are
valid for other occupational groups. It is possible that hospital employees, for reasons
of collegiality, prefer to work through sickness rather than have a colleague obliged to
replace them. Thus, a generalization of our findings to other occupations awaits further
empirical tests.
At this point, two critical notes should be made regarding the SEM results. First, a
suppressor effect resulted for the relationship between T1 presenteeism and T3
depersonalization (i.e. a zero relationship turned to a negative one). Such suppressor
effects are highly probable in SEM analysis with longitudinal data (because of the
often high stability coefficients), and in models with latent concepts (Maassen and
Bakker, 2001) as was the case in our study. However, all other effects were plausible
and consistent with the correlations, indicating that suppression was not a serious
threat to our findings. Second, SEM analysis confirmed only one of the possible
complex processes linking presenteeism, job demands and burnout over time. Namely,
T1 burnout predicted T3 presenteeism partly through T2 job demands. This
underscores the complexity of the investigated phenomena. Future studies should
examine whether this process can be generalized in other occupational contexts and
using different time frames.
Presenteeism
63
Study contributions and implications
The study expands the literature on sickness presenteeism, job stress and burnout in
two important ways. Firstly, our study gives insight in some causes and consequences
of presenteeism, which has not been studied before using longitudinal designs.
Secondly, we show that in addition to the “conventional” causal effects (job
characteristics lead to employee (un)well-being) also reversed causal effects may take
place over time, in which employee well-being influences (perceived) working
conditions (see Zapf et al., 1996). Thus, the findings illustrate that occupational health
is not static, but rather a dynamic and self-perpetuating phenomenon and these
dynamics should be taken into consideration by both practitioners and researchers.
Presenteeism seems to be a growing health and productivity risk. As such,
employers should approach presenteeism like any other health risk, namely with both
prevention and mitigation strategies. To limit the potential impact of presenteeism on
productivity, companies should identify key worksite risk factors driving it and
develop strategies to minimize it. As shown in the present study, job demands and
burnout (which is also predicted by job demands) are important (causal) factors
influencing presenteeism. Therefore, a way to reduce presenteeism is to (re)design job
demands such that they do not have undesirable effects on employee health, by
providing, e.g. ergonomic facilities for physical tasks, variation between tasks
involving direct care for patients and tasks without patient contact as well as between
demanding tasks and recovery.
Another way is to discourage employees to continue working when not fully fit to
do so. This can be achieved by developing a culture that clearly removes the ambiguity
regarding what employees have to do when they are sick. Managers and occupational
health professionals should be aware that presenteeism might be good in the
short-term but in the long term it will create more problems in terms of employee
sicknesses and enhanced costs. Therefore, they need to create a climate in which
staying home when being sick is not a taboo. On the work floor, supervisors should
encourage sick employees to stay at home and, as role models, they should also behave
the same way themselves. The ultimate ideal is to reject a macho or workaholism
culture and instead to emphasize the right of and the importance for employees to stay
at home when sick. Maybe some employees will be more difficult to comply with such a
culture and supervisor’s interventions since Type A personality types (Kivima
¨ki et al.,
2005) and employees who find it hard to say no to other’s wishes and expectations (i.e.
boundarylessness; Aronsson and Gustafsson, 2005) are inclined to exhibit more
presenteeism than their counterparts. If future studies indeed confirm the robustness of
such relationships between personality types and presenteeism, the countermeasures
against presenteeism have to take a tailor-made approach by providing additional
attention to such high “risk” individuals.
Note
1. In additional analyses we conducted nested models comparison in which we successively
eliminated the hypothesized structural paths from the proposed model. In this way we
evaluated whether elimination of the hypothesized paths would result in a significant
deterioration of the model fit. Results indicated that the fit of the proposed model was
significantly better than the fit of all possible nested models. These additional results are
available to the readers by the first author upon request.
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64
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in Schaufeli, W.B., Maslach, C. and Marek, T. (Eds), Professional Burnout:
Recent Developments in Theory and Research, Taylor & Francis, Washington, DC,
pp. 237-50.
About the authors
Evangelia Demerouti is an associate professor of social and organizational psychology at Utrecht
University, The Netherlands. She studied psychology at the University of Crete and received her
PhD in the Job Demands-Resources model of burnout (1999) from the Carl von Ossietzky
Universita
¨t Oldenburg, Germany. Her main research interests concern topics from the field of
work and health including the Job Demands Resources model, burnout, work-family interface,
crossover of strain, flexible working times, and job performance. She has published over 50
national and international papers and book chapters on these topics, serves as a reviewer for
various national and international scientific journals. Evangelia Demerouti is the corresponding
author and can be contacted at: e.demerouti@uu.nl
Pascale Le Blanc obtained her PhD in 1994 with a study on the Leader Member Exchange
theory among general hospital nurses. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor in Occupational
Health Psychology at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Her research interests include job
stress, worksite stress management interventions, leadership, and teamwork.
Arnold Bakker is full professor of Work and Organizational Psychology at Erasmus
University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. He studied social and organizational psychology at the
University of Groningen and received his Ph.D. from the same university. Dr Bakker’s research
interests include positive organizational behaviour, the Job Demands Resources model,
emotional labour, crossover, burnout, and work-family interaction. He published in journals such
as the Journal of Applied Psychology,Journal of Management, and the Journal of Occupational
Health Psychology. He serves on editorial boards of several scholarly journals and is editor of the
book Work Engagement: Recent developments in Theory and Research (with Michael Leiter).
Wilmar B. Schaufeli received his PhD in psychology from Groningen University in the
Netherlands. He is now full professor of Work and Organizational Psychology at Utrecht
University, The Netherlands. His research area is occupational health psychology and more
particularly job stress, job engagement, workaholism, and burnout. For more details see: www.
schaufeli.com
Joop Hox is Professor of Social Science Methodology at the department of Methodology and
Statistics of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Utrecht University. As Methodology chair, he is
responsible for the research, development and teaching carried out at the faculty in the field of
social science methods and techniques. His research interests focus on two lines of work: data
quality in social surveys and multilevel modeling. The two lines of research reinforce each other,
for instance in using multilevel methods to model complex survey data. He has acted as reviewer
for national and international journals in the fields of survey methodology and statistics, and has
been guest editor for special issues. His recent research focuses on survey nonresponse,
interviewer effects, survey data quality, missing data problems, and multilevel analysis of
regression and structural equation models.
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Çalışmada presenteeism (işte var olamama) kavramının ilk öncelikle tanımı yapılacaktır. Daha sonra kavramın önemi üzerinde durulacaktır. Bu kavramın örgütlere maliyeti hakkında bilgi verilecektir. Presenteeismin nedenleri ve sonuçları açıklanacak ve mücadele yöntemleri hakkında bilgi aktarılacaktır.
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