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A systematic review of infectious illness presenteeism: prevalence, reasons and risk factors

Publication date: 

18 Sep 2019


Webster RK, Liu R, Karimullina K, Hall I, Amlot R, Rubin GJ (2019). A systematic review of the prevalence of, and reasons and risk factors for, infection illness presenteeism. BMC Public Health. 19, 799


Webster RK Liu R Karimullina K Hall I Amlot R Rubin GJ

Publication type: 



Background Workplace presenteeism is common and leads to the spread of infectious diseases. Previous reviews have focused on presenteeism in relation to general physical or mental ill health. In this systematic review we identified the prevalence of, and reasons and risk factors for, presenteeism in relation to an infectious illness. Method We searched Medline, Scopus, Web of Science, PsycINFO and PsycARTICLES with terms relating to infectious illnesses and presenteeism at the work place or school; reference lists of relevant articles were also hand-searched. Result Our search yielded 3580 papers after deduplication. After title, abstract and full text screening, 23 papers reporting on 24 studies were included. Twenty-three studies were cross-sectional studies and one was prospective. The quality of included studies was relatively poor due to problems such as sampling and non-response bias. Presenteeism prevalence ranged from 35 to 97%. Self-reported reasons for presenteeism fell into three main themes: 1. Organisational factors (organisational policy, presenteeism culture, disciplinary action), 2. Job characteristics (lack of cover, professionalism, job demand), and 3. Personal reasons (burden on colleagues, colleague perceptions, threshold of sickness absence and financial concerns). Statistical risk factors fell into four themes: 1. Sociodemographic, 2. Health, 3. Influenza-related behaviour, and 4. Employment characteristics. Most of the risk factors had insufficient evidence to allow us to draw any firm conclusions, and evidence regarding gender and age was inconsistent. The risk factor with the most consistent findings concerned occupation type, suggesting that those who worked in the healthcare sector, and specifically physicians, were at a higher risk of infectious illness presenteeism. Conclusion Infectious illness presenteeism is common. To address the public health consequences, organisations should focus on promoting a positive working culture and developing sickness absence policies that reduce presenteeism. Further research is needed in non-health sector organisations and schools to identify risk factors related to different organisations, which can then be used to tailor interventions at the organisational and individual level.