Who among us hasn’t stumbled into the office with red eyes and a runny nose? And who among us hasn’t done some outright scorning of others who bring their coughing, sneezing, germy selves to work?
This may be just the year to put an end to “presenteeism.”
In a recent column for the New York Times, science and culture writer Daniel Engber took aim at the workplace madness that compels people to come to work sick, and it struck a nerve.
A doctor wrote about the pressure to show up sick so as not to dump extra work on colleagues or inconvenience patients. Restaurant workers said they wouldn’t get paid — or worse, they’d be fired — if they didn’t show up.
One reader traced the presenteeism pressure back to kindergarten, when gold stars were doled out for perfect attendance.
Presenteeism happens for many reasons. The United States is notorious for its stingy sick days and vacation policies. Only two-thirds of workers have access to paid time off, so some have no choice. In most other cases, Engber argues, it’s our own competitive zeal for overwork that’s the cause. We fear looking like a slouch.
“It’s this situation where everyone is doing something that’s making life worse for everyone, but there’s no way to break out of it,” Engber said by phone from New York. “Everyone ends up miserable.”
We’ve created, in the exacting words of Texas economist Daniel Hamermesh, “a Gordian knot” of a problem.
So at a time of year when resolutions are made — and contagions abound — Engber has thrown down a challenge:
“Support the slacker — or better yet, be a slacker.”
Let the revolution begin. □