Presenteeism has become an increasingly endemic issue in the workplace and is usually defined as reduced productivity due to employees working whilst feeling unwell. Presenteeism can be a problem wherever you work; We have noted that some comms professionals have been working flat-out from their homes, some have started to make plans to get back into the office, whilst others have been working from the office throughout most of the pandemic.
Presenteeism can manifest in many different forms, some more visible, such as employees dragging themselves into the office or to their home office desk when they are physically unwell, meaning they are likely to be unproductive and pass the bug to colleagues. But what about employees who are suffering from unaddressed mental health problems still going to work when they should be taking the time to seek support? This is a much less visible form of presenteeism which can affect their decision-making ability, as well as their more long-term mental health.
In this modern-day working world presenteeism also includes pressure to stay late in the office – whatever your health – as well as to always be available. In the last year especially, working from home, potential concern about Covid-related job loss, as well as being less able to have a physical separation from work, are all likely to have increased pressure to always be ‘on’.
Due to its impact on productivity it has been estimated (by Deloitte) that presenteeism costs UK employers as much as £29bn per year, and three times more than sick leave. So what can employers do to tackle this problem that negatively affects not only staff but the company as a whole?
Understand the influence of company culture
Company culture is a topic we have written about recently, and it is important to appreciate how it can affect presenteeism. Businesses need to ensure a company culture that sets the right tone and protects employees physical and mental health.
Have a good look at your culture to make sure staff don’t feel afraid to take a sick day or to clock off on time for fear of being seen as uncommitted or because they don’t want to ‘let their teams down’. And remember how important communication is for employee engagement and motivation, which in turn affect mental health and presenteeism.
Promote health and wellbeing
It may seem obvious, but it’s important for managers to encourage staff to rest and recuperate when unwell. This benefits not only the individual but the entire team, as taking time off – and not feeling worried about doing so - aids recovery, morale and overall mental wellbeing.
‘Prevention is better than cure’ is a well known saying which is very relevant to employee health; Taking time to create and implement employee wellbeing strategies, such as encouraging healthier habits and helping staff recognise signs of stress and health issues, should help reduce presenteeism.
Protect the benefits of flexible working
Allowing employees flexibility positively impacts physical and mental wellbeing, and can even boost productivity. This last year has proved that working from home can be just as effective as being in the office, however enforced long-term homeworking may well have muddied the work-life balance waters a bit due to an inability to get away from work and a pressure to always be available. So, whatever model your company will adopt going forwards, it is important to remember the benefits of working from home and help staff to make the most of them.
Lead by example
Management style has a big impact on your business – are your managers leading by example when it comes to presenteeism? If senior team members are consistently leaving the office late, emailing out of hours or not taking time off when sick, it sets an unhealthy expectation for the rest of the team. But if you make sure that you and your other managers are personally demonstrating responsible working practices for your employees to follow, you will be rewarded with a happier and healthier workforce.
Don’t neglect your young workforce
Deloitte’s research also highlights a higher prevalence of mental health problems among younger people, that employers lose the equivalent of 8.3% of the salaries of those aged 18-29 as a result of poor mental health (the highest of any employee age group), and that young people are also less likely to disclose mental health problems to employers and more likely to use their holiday instead of taking days off work.
Many junior employees therefore may worry that taking time off work will portray them as weak and underperforming, making them more susceptible to presenteeism. Our younger employees are the future of our businesses, but are also, evidently, the most vulnerable, so it’s important to take the time to support their physical and mental well-being.
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