Cover: Culture of Presenteeism

Culture of Presenteeism

Emergent Perspectives from an NHS-workforce Convenience Sample

Published in: Occupational Medicine (2024). DOI: 10.1093/occmed/kqae006

Posted on rand.org Feb 12, 2024

by Zuzanna Marciniak-Nuqui, Mark Cabling, Robert J. Romanelli

Background

The United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS) has been under strain for more than a decade, which has been exacerbated by the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. According to NHS staff, this is felt especially during the winter (also called 'winter pressure'), when both absenteeism and presenteeism rates are high in the healthcare workforce.

Aims

To understand the culture of presenteeism amongst NHS staff, focusing specifically on how presenteeism both persisted and changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and during periods of annual winter pressure.

Methods

Data for this study were derived from 20 in-depth interviews conducted with NHS staff, drawn from a convenience sample of primary- and secondary-care services. Interviews were guided by a semi-structured interview protocol.

Results

This study contributes to an understanding of presenteeism by describing the ways in which the practice both changed and, in some ways, stayed the same during COVID-19 self-isolation regulations, with remote work arrangements enabling some healthcare workers to continue working even when unwell. Despite this, isolation guidelines threw into stark relief NHS workers' deeply held beliefs about duty, service, and commitment to the wider healthcare system, while exposing their experiences and perceptions of profound systemic challenges and a lack of wider support to carry out their work.

Conclusions

The emergent findings from this study suggest that the culture of presenteeism is linked to wider NHS staff's identification with the institutional goals of the NHS, resulting in their motivation to continue working, even if remotely; yet, the consequences are not fully understood.

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