How to handle presenteeism in the workplace

Everything has an opposite

First published on Thursday, Aug 13, 2020

Last updated on Thursday, Aug 13, 2020

4 min read

We know it is essential for companies to monitor employee attendance. Not only does it allow you to uncover the true cost of absence, but it will also let you uncover any potential underlying issues in the business – such as staff morale and productivity.

But there is another factor at play, one that is much harder to identify and monitor, but one that could be equally as costly to the business: Presenteeism.

What is presenteeism and how has it come about?

Presenteeism comes in two forms. First, where employees report to work when they really shouldn’t be there (due to illness, for example). Second, where workers start work early or work late regardless of their workload, therefore working way over their contracted hours each week.

This culture has developed due to several factors. The digital transformation of the workplace, instant communications, workplace pressures and norms, operational demands, reduced job security, workplace perceptions, competitive job markets and the economic downturn have all played a part.

At present, remote employees unable to separate home and work while working from a home office may end up over-working.

But how does presenteeism affect your business?

The first, and most important thing is productivity. Overworked employees are at a higher risk of a burnout.

Furthermore, associated physical and mental health issues, stress levels, employee errors and increased staff turnover can all result from presenteeism and ultimately impact your business.

Combatting presenteeism

One of the main issues is identifying presenteeism. Here are some ways you can reduce the effects of presenteeism:

Manage workloads and spot the signs

As a business owner, you are always going to be busy and it’s easy to lose sight of your employees' individual workloads, their workplace motivation and general workplace wellbeing. But you need to keep an eye on the situation.

There may come a point when one or two individuals are over-stretched. This may lead to a period of presenteeism and ultimately absenteeism as they experience burnout and potential illness. Especially, in the current work-from-home scenario. It is often harder to disconnect from work when your home is also your workplace.

You should encourage your staff to maintain a work-life balance while working from home. Share advice on remote work best practices.

By keeping an eye on your employees’ workloads and any subtle changes in motivation/personality you can tackle any issues before they become a problem.

Develop a culture of communication and trust

Culture can be an important factor when it comes to presenteeism. If your company has a pressurised culture, or where people are concerned about their job security, then presenteeism will not only exist but will be inadvertently encouraged. You need to develop a culture where your employees feel trusted that they can take a day off when feeling unwell.

Communication is also key. If a member of staff does not feel they can approach you, or their line manager, about a potential issue it is most likely the issue will remain under wraps and may have a negative effect. Employers can utilise informal communications, or more formal settings such as employee satisfaction surveys or regular performance reviews, to ensure communication is encouraged.

Have flexible absence management policies

Does your absence management policy effectively discourage employees for taking sickness leave? An example may be withholding pay for those who are off sick above a certain number of days, or potential disciplinary action. If so, this will no doubt lead to presenteeism as people will come into work to avoid being penalised. You need to ensure there is flexibility within your policy, and that managers are trained and fully aware of it. Return to work procedures can also help here when it comes to longer-term absences.

Focus on output and deliverables, not hours worked

Create a culture where output and deliverables are rewarded, not the input time. That way people will come to see that spending every hour in the office is not effective and presenteeism can be reduced.

Just like absence, presenteeism can have a detrimental effect on your business. But with the above plans and policies in place, you can help reduce and tackle the issue, avoiding the cost to your business and your staff.

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