Opinion: Presenteeism is a key issue employers must address in 2020

Opinion: Presenteeism is a key issue employers must address in 2020

Absenteeism has long been recognised as a huge productivity killer. But less has been said about its little known cousin ‘presenteeism’. Presenteeism

Absenteeism has long been recognised as a huge productivity killer. But less has been said about its little known cousin ‘presenteeism’. Presenteeism is a term used to describe employees who attend work when they’re probably not well enough, either physically or mentally, to be there. It can also describe those who are jaded by their role and so altogether not ‘present’, but who still turn up. Sound familiar?

 

The problem is that stress and pressure in so many jobs today cause people to feel they can never call in sick. Job insecurity, lack of pay due to illness, or fear of attracting a negative image (such as coming across as lazy), are some of the main factors behind this phenomenon. The struggle is real: 58% of managers believe productivity suffers when staff work while they are unwell. Meanwhile, a lack of motivation and a decline in care being taken towards an employee’s performance, results in disengagement which can also cause costly errors.

 

As a result, presenteeism is the key buthidden challenge the modern workplace faces. Here are some ways it can be prevented:

 

Offer a work from home programme

 

Obviously, a severe case of the measles demands some time off work, but there are certain illnesses – such as colds or flu – that occupy a grey area, where a worker may genuinely feel fine to work despite some uncomfortable symptoms. The problem is, if that employee goes to the workplace, others are likely to catch it. Implementing a work-from-home allowance, where there’s scope to soldier on without affecting others, is a sensible way of keeping your workforce healthy and limiting burnouts.

 

Make sure workers switch off

 

Certain jobs, such as those in the public sector, simply aren’t suitable for work-from-home or flexible working policies. In these cases, the most important thing is to ensure employees aren’t working when they shouldn’t be.

Eating lunch at your desk, checking emails whilst on annual leave and staying late are all easy habits to get into, but can be a slippery slope to presenteeism. In a world of 24/7 connectivity, switching off is harder than ever. It’s the role of the employer to set clear boundaries and communicate certain expectations – breaks should always be taken in full, and work phones turned off when the day ends.

 

Reassess your absence policies

 

For years, many companies have had ‘return to work’ interviews and forms whenever an employee takes a sickness absence as standard. However, these are often anxiety-inducing for workers – if the tone is wrong, they can feel they’re being reprimanded for being unwell, which can discourage staff from taking time off. Rather than making this too formal a procedure, simply ensure line managers have regular face-to-face chats with employees to check in, where any health-related concerns can be discussed.

 

Incentives for attending work, such as rewards for 100% attendance, are also counter-productive. All this does is put stress on those who want to achieve such rewards. A study has shown that 100% attendance rewards in school actually increases absences, having a demotivating effect in the long run. Why would work be any different?

 

Everyone is different and has their own set of unique health challenges to overcome, so adopting a more flexible approach is the best way forward. It’s your duty as an employer to make sure your staff are healthy and engaged, and therefore productive – make 2020 the year where you nip presenteeism in the bud for good.

 

Author:  Jamie Mackenzie, Director at Sodexo Engage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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