Absenteeism and Presenteeism Among American Workers

Published in: Journal of Disability Policy Studies, Volume 32, Issue 1, pages 13–23 (2021). doi: 10.1177/1044207320933211

Posted on RAND.org on August 10, 2021

by Nicole Maestas, Kathleen J. Mullen, Stephanie Rennane

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Recent policy proposals for early intervention argue that health and workplace supports may be more effective if they are provided soon after the onset of a disabling condition, before an individual has completely stopped working. One challenge in developing effective early intervention programs, however, is identifying workers who may benefit from this type of assistance. Chronic absence from work or presenteeism (working while sick) could signal a worker has begun transitioning out of the labor force and may benefit from early intervention. We analyze the relationship between absences, presenteeism, and work outcomes using data from the American Working Conditions Survey. We find absences and productivity losses when working while sick are quite low on average, and absenteeism and presenteeism are highly positively correlated. We find no relationship between subsequent work outcomes and either absences or presenteeism except for individuals in the extreme right tail (95th percentile) of the absence distribution, who also engage in presenteeism. Those workers with extremely high absence rates and presenteeism have an 80% higher probability of labor force exit 3 years later. Our findings suggest that workers with many absences could be a useful group to target for early interventions and accommodations.

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