Let’s talk about presenteeism

workplace sickness, sick pay, presenteeism, hrAs big advocates of workplace wellbeing, we have our ear to the ground for the latest ONS news. Recently it was reported that sickness has almost halved since records began in 1993 from an average of 7.2 days to 4.1 days and we couldn’t help but wonder how much ‘presenteeism’ has contributed to this statistic.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism is a term that has been coined to describe employees that continue to attend work despite having a reason not to be there such as illness or staying longer hours than necessary. This isn’t to be confused with absenteeism that is the practice of regularly staying away from work without good reason.

presenteeism /prɛznˈtiːɪzəm/ – noun – the practice of being present at one’s place of work for more hours than is required, especially as a manifestation of insecurity about one’s job. “one of the general symptoms of employee insecurity is presenteeism”

Sickness vs presenteeism

We bet you’ll see someone coughing and spluttering right now if you have a scan around your workplace..In fact, 86% of the respondents from a recent CIPD survey said that they had observed presenteeism in their own offices. Often the symptom of the integral workplace culture, alarming only 25% of the companies surveyed say that they are taking steps to actively discourage these unhealthy working practises. This study also found a correlation between presenteeism and increased reporting of stress-related absences and common mental health conditions.

As an employer, you might think that this is a win/win scenario; after all, the employee is so dedicated to their role that they are turning up for work despite having a bad cold, but in reality if the employee doesn’t feel that they can ring in sick, this might be a symptom that something’s a bit off with the company culture or internal policies that favour or incentivise 100% attendance.

Unfortunately, illness is inevitable and it’s hard to believe that even the most dedicated employee would be able to work to full capacity when they are not feeling well, even if your procedures encourage working from home. Moreso, infectious illnesses could risk the health of other employees which will hit productivity hard.

The correlation between long hours and presenteeism

The portability of our work devices means that we are working hours than ever before; In fact, the ONS report found that Brits work an average of 17.2 extra unpaid hours a month.  Whereas some companies pride themselves on ‘hard work and long hours’, some companies have decided to ditch the 9-5 construct and opt for 4 day weeks to benefit productivity and employee wellness with positive reports of higher engagement levels, higher productivity and decreased sickness and presenteeism.

Steps you can take to stamp out presenteeism:

  • A poor response to sickness is fundamentally unproductive – if the employee is dragging themselves in despite being ill, they could wipe out the entire workforce with their cold. If your company has a zero-tolerance attitude towards sickness, it might be worth reviewing how you respond to staff members that ring in when they are unwell and lead by example by better supporting them through sickness.
  • Always conduct a back to work interview And by interview, we don’t mean interrogation.  During one of our recent office managers networking events, 360HR recommended that the employer should always conduct a face to face return to work interview with the staff member. This will give them the opportunity to discuss why they were off, or bring to light why they felt that they couldn’t discuss take time away from their role.
  • Trust your employees –  If you have an exemplary employee, it could be worth having a discussion with them and actively encourage them to recuperate at home. And no, we don’t mean work from home, we mean honey, lemon and day time TV. If sickness and working from home isn’t clearly separated, sickness could be inaccurately reported, so where possible distinguish what is expected in the staff handbook.
  • Be more stringent with working hours – Although work can be difficult to always fit into a 9-5 day if there isn’t a legitimate purpose for staying late at work then it might be best to discourage it. This attitude is quickly fostered by other team members and creates presenteeism due to the insecurity that you’re ‘leaving early’. Instead, why not reward employees for how productive they are between their allocated hours.
  • Conducting a workplace assessment is a good way to identify if the employee is having trouble with any elements of their role. If tasks are taking longer than usual or productivity has dipped, the employee may appear to be sat at their desk working away,  but they might be struggling with common workplace ailments such as back pain, RSI, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or shoulder pain.

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