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Presenteeism and Four Ways to Manage it

Posted on 1/11/2017 by Tracey George MIRP

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Following on from our blog on absenteeism, we are now exploring the impact that presenteeism has on the workplace. Presenteeism costs the average UK business more than absenteeism, a sum of £605 per employee annually.

Presenteeism is the act of being physically present at work when you shouldn’t be, whether that’s because you are not contributing as you should be, or working outside of hours. It can vary from being physically or mentally unwell and this impacting the quality of work produced. It also includes being over-committed (working on weekends or bank holidays) and the polar opposite: general slacking on the job - being present but not productive for a variety of reasons.

A report by CIPD found that 72% of organisations observed presenteeism in their workplace.

Whilst for some companies presenteeism may seem beneficial, in reality employees are either putting in hours for free or not taking sick days and in the long term the benefits are cancelled out. The problem is whilst employees turn up to work, their presence actually has a negative effect on the workplace; from spreading and exacerbating mental and physical illnesses to lowering morale, decreasing productivity and burnout.

Here are some of our tips on how to manage and reduce presenteeism in the workplace:

1. Be aware

Presenteeism is something that all organisations should be aware of. Whilst it seems simple, it’s incredibly important to understand the extent of presenteeism. It is easy to notice and identify the negative effect of someone who is struggling due to symptoms of a cold. However, it is equally important to recognise when an employee’s work is impacted by something not as obvious, such as mental health concerns.

This is why having a strong relationship between the management team and workforce is beneficial, as a good manager should be approachable and able to spot if an employee is not their usual selves.

Recognising the detrimental impact of an over-commitment to work is also key to reducing burnout. While it can be easy to send home an employee with ill health, it is equally important to be aware of staff that seem otherwise healthy but are pushing themselves to work more hours than necessary - be it staying late or coming in on weekends. This is not good for their overall health, the more exhausted employees become, the more likely they are to try and compensate; a potential future cause of absenteeism.

2. Manage the problem, not the symptoms

Adapt and adjust accordingly to fit the needs of employees. If the current work environment is unsuitable for an employee, but something can be done to make it suitable then by all means do so. However, in the long-run, it’s important to make sure that the root of the problem is being addressed and resolved, not just the visible effects.

Good management of poor health in the workplace involves minimising the risks and adverse consequences of ill health, both for the employee and the organisation.

3. Time to talk

Set time aside for confidential meetings between employees and management to raise any issues and talk freely about issues that impinge on their wellbeing. This encourages employees to highlight any issues which are causing, or could lead to presenteeism.

Employees that are presentees, are often least likely to be forward about issues troubling them. They are unlikely to stop and report if they are struggling, therefore offering them time to talk can give them a space to feel comfortable, relaxed and ask for help.

4. Work/life balance

Ensuring that employees have a healthy work/life balance is key. Have a policy that addresses when work is taken home, how much overtime is too much and answering emails on leave or at weekends.

Making sure employees know what is expected of them is a key factor in reducing presenteeism. People vary and without establishing this bottom line, some staff will work themselves too hard leading to low productivity through high stress levels and burnout.

On the other hand, for a range of reasons, some staff will swing the other way and be too dormant in their role, for example, this could be because they work long days and at a certain time they just switch off.

Make sure that your organisation has a procedure in place to provide support for presenteeism. It is imperative that you have an agreed standard of what is considered unfit for work. There are many causes, and identifying them is the key to resolving the issue.

Employers should also recognise the relationship between absenteeism and presenteeism. For example, having an absence policy that is too stringent will drive presenteeism if employees are too afraid to take days off due to ill health. Therefore, it is important to establish a balance of the two and support your employees in order to maintain and increase productivity and quality of work.

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