Can you show a direct cost savings?

The problem with presenteeism is proving that money is saved by decreasing it. "It's not impossible, but it's very, very difficult, to show this," says Joseph Fortuna, MD, co-chair of the Health Steering Committee of the Automotive Industry Action Group.

If you use the right tools, however, you can get a sense of the number of unproductive hours due to presenteeism. "The cost of those hours can then be converted to dollars," says Fortuna. "What is much more difficult to calculate, except in call center environments, is the cost of poor quality due to workers who are there, but not there."

Fortuna recalls that a former employer was not willing to invest in a medical, safety, and worker's compensation software that would have made employees more productive. "We had to prove that we could save actual dollars. They weren't interested in cost avoidance," he says.

However, you now have a new tool at your disposal: A growing body of research showing just how costly lost productivity is.1, 2 "When we looked at indirect productivity cost data, we found that the direct cost of health care, which everybody knows about and thinks is the biggest cost, is less than the indirect cost," Fortuna says. "This might motivate people to do something about this."

The truth is that most companies are not able to "get a good handle" on lack of productivity, says Fortuna. "It's almost invisible in most situations. That's one of the reasons they can't manage it," he says. "For most manufacturing organizations, it really isn't on the radar screen."

However, Fortuna says that people are starting to realize that "there is a lot of money being left on the table" by semi-productive workers. "There is a huge role for occupational health with this."


1. Gates DM, Succop P, Brehm BJ, et al. Obesity and presenteeism: The impact of body mass index on workplace productivity. J Occup Environ Med 2008; 50:39-45.

2. Burton WN, Chen CY, Conti DJ, et al. The association between health risk change and presenteeism change. J Occup Environ Med 2006; 48:252-263.