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The Impact of Presenteeism in the Workplace Due to Illness or Caregiving

Apr 09, 2020 |

Health problems can drastically affect one’s ability to work productively and perform at full capacity. From the general flu, to poor mental health, to cardiovascular disease, patients are often forced to take sick leaves or even stop working entirely, which can place significant financial and social burdens on their daily lives. When patients show up for work despite their illness, workplaces face the added pressure of decreased capacity for work, as their employees are unable to perform at their full capacity. This is often called “presenteeism”.


Dr. Wei Zhang from the School of Population and Public Health has developed the Valuation of Lost Productivity (VOLP) questionnaire to address this common yet costly issue of presenteeism in the workplace, and is the first of its kind to measure the impact of health problems on work productivity in terms of time and cost to employers.

Dr. Wei Zhang

The questions include measuring employee presence and absence from work, whether they are sick while working, how much they are able to complete, and the quality of the work they produce. The answers are then used to calculate to value of productivity loss in monetary units from a human capital perspective.


The VOLP questionnaire has been translated into 12 languages for use in 15 countries and has been requested in over 20 different studies of various diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis, and heart disease. Data gathered from the VOLP may also prove useful in future studies of COVID-19.


In the United Kingdom, 152 patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis were administered the VOLP as part of the primary validation study. Half the patients were randomized to complete a work diary for the duration of two weeks to ensure questionnaire reliability, after which point all patients with no changes in health were asked to complete the follow-up questionnaire.


VOLP will be added to Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey in 2021, a huge milestone in the project’s potential for influencing future health policy. Currently, the findings from the patient-centered survey are being used to modify the questionnaire to evaluate the impacts on caregivers, as many who are caring for these patients are unable to perform their own work at full capacity.


Funded by the BC Support Unit, the results of the 2021 survey will allow researchers to develop data for the effects of specific diseases and health problems on patients, as well as measure caregiver burden.


While it remains difficult for caregivers in particular to provide care for their loved ones while also working, Dr. Zhang is optimistic that by 2021, the study will be able to recruit caregivers with the time to participate in the survey, and that the results will be of great use to researchers across Canada and worldwide.


Understanding the burden of diseases on the Canadian population will allow policymakers to create public health interventions that protect both employer and employee, and ultimately enable patients and their caregivers to continue working in good health.


For more information, visit the following link.


By: Isabelle Vauclair