Today’s editorial in the BMJ covers presenteeism and short term illness. High levels of presenteeism are seen in healthcare workers, with 26% of healthcare workers surveyed reporting presenteeism in the past seven days.
The dangers of presenteeism include those to the patient, such as increased risk of musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, depression, and of serious coronary events. It may lead to exhaustion, and the prolonging of illness. In most cases it is far better to take time off work, recover, and return fully able to do the job. In addition presenteeism increases the risk of infecting others, a particular worry in healthcare settings.
On the contrary research has shown that long-term health problems may benefit from a return to work. Work has been advocated to be used as a clinical outcome of successful treatment. In addition, return to work of a healthy nature has been shown to help improve people’s health by giving them a purpose, a routine and support from colleagues.
No wonder then that the issue is confusing – when we have a minor illness, we have to stay at home, but with a more complex, long-term condition, we have to try to return to work. In many cases, as the patient, it may be difficult to decide what is best for us, what we can do safely, and what will help us recover. This is why it is vital that GPs are available to advise us on these issues, telling us how our health will affect our daily lives and the best way to manage these problems.