Presenteeism is costing businesses millions: learn how to be properly ill, instead

Let's all learn how to be ill again (C) Thinkstock

Dr Louise Smith says we've all learned a lot about infectious diseases (C) Thinkstock - Credit: Thinkstock

Presenteeism is a problem that is costing businesses a vast amount of cash every year. Rather than working while being ill, why not just do a better job of just being ill and cut out the working bit altogether?

In the olden days, it was absenteeism that threatened productivity at work: these days it's absenteeism AND presenteeism, which is when you're at work but you shouldn't be.

According to research, not only have we forgotten how to save brown paper and string, use flints to light a fire, wrestle mammoths and entertain ourselves for more than 10 minutes without the internet, apparently we've also forgotten how to be ill properly.

Presenteeism is when employees come into work while not physically or mentally well, and its now been expanded to include employees who are disengaged in their job - it's amazing any work at all gets done, really, using those parameters.

I am keen that none of us lose the art of being ill, and therefore have compiled a guide to help you get the most out of not being very well. This is not intended to replace actual medical opinion and is no use whatsoever if you are properly ill - if it helps, I just Google symptoms and then panic.

How to be ill

Most Read

1) If you are self-employed, it is really, really hard to be ill, even though you spend all your leisure time with the boss and are on first-name terms with them. Not being able to take time off sick is one of the most compelling reasons that I can think of for not being self-employed (there are others: I am allergic to risk, I don't want to start thinking about any time off I have as time when I could be making money and I don't want to have to decide how much I should get paid because frankly things would get out of hand). If you are self-employed, accept the fact that you are never going to be ill again, even if you are.

2) Remember that pretending to be ill isn't the same as actually being ill. If you simply want to pretend to be ill, remember the rules: don't choose the day that your boss refused to let you take as holiday, don't choose a Monday or a Friday, call at the time you'd leave home rather than minutes before you're due at work, always telephone in person rather than send an email or a text, do the sick voice convincingly with the correct quotient of woeful back story/feebleness, use key terms such as 'gynaecologist', 'x-ray', 'catheter', 'hallucinating' or 'MRI' and ensure that your phone call is made from a quiet room rather than a bar, a Las Vegas chapel, a holding cell or Disneyland.

3) Is your inner critic telling you to pull yourself together and soldier on? Is your fearful child telling you that you are letting people down and that people will think you're weak if you can't keep going? Do you have an inner critic or a fearful child? Does everyone? Am I missing out by not having them? Because I have lots of outer critics who leave horrible comments under my columns on the internet and some children who I wish were a little bit more fearful but who are actually quite lippy, instead. Ignore inner critics, fearful children, outer critics, fearless children and get down to the business of reclaiming illnesses like colds and minor infections and retreating to your bed. Consider it like being a member of the National Trust - you are preserving the art of complaining in a sweaty bedroom while demanding squash and comics for future generations.

4) Never miss an opportunity to upgrade your low-level illness into something far more serious simply by overuse of Google. You're already ill and unable to do much more than surf the internet, so why not key in a few of your symptoms and see what you find? OH MY DAYS! I HAVE EBOLA/TUBERCULOSIS/BARMAH FOREST VIRUS/BARBER'S ITCH/MILK LEG/THE HORRORS

5) Know when to stop being ill. Of course you might be properly ill and therefore unable to stop being ill, in which case, keep horizontal and carry on, but if you've got an illness with a shelf-life, like a cold or tonsillitis, know when it is time to stop behaving like a lank-haired dictator in a bed jacket before your family disown you.