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The real cost of presenteeism

In the past, employers would worry when faced with high numbers of absenteeism in the workplace. More recently, however, presenteeism is becoming a bigger issue than companies anticipated.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism occurs when someone is present at work for more hours than expected. This normally occurs when people continue to work whilst sick or work more hours than in their contract. They may take work home or during holiday to catch up. Alternatively, they could avoid taking designated holiday due to worries about time off.

The link between presenteeism and productivity

There is evidence to suggest that presenteeism can cause productivity loss within the business. This can be due to poor health, exhaustion and spreading of illnesses within the workplace.

Presenteeism occurs when employees are reluctant to take time off work due to illness or stress. It can stem from workers feeling like they are irreplaceable or can stem from workplace pressures, work-related stress or personal money troubles.

Despite staff members still showing up for work, it can lead to a loss in productivity and can affect a business more so than long-term sickness. This is due to the fact that employees are not being given enough time to recover so the periods of illness or other medical conditions last longer. Even when an employee isn’t ill, they can choose not to take designated time off and lack the rest and recreation that can impact their overall well-being.

Whilst this is happening, the employee cannot work at their full capacity, and so presenteeism can be a much costlier problem than absenteeism.

Why spotting presenteeism can be difficult

It’s easy to note when something is wrong when regular absence patterns occur. But presenteeism isn’t always as apparent. It can be difficult for managers to tell when an illness or medical condition hinders an employee if they are still showing up for work.

Similarly, employees that regularly work over the required amount of hours could be doing so to make a good impression. Hidden aspects such as worries about their job role, workload or additional stress aren’t always apparent on the surface. That’s why it can be more difficult for managers to detect.

What’s more, it can be difficult for managers and businesses to determine the costs associated with presenteeism and loss of productivity. Illnesses that are taken to work, often go untreated and could be affecting the employee for years, undetected by the business.

What is the real cause of presenteeism?

Presenteeism doesn’t necessarily occur because managers are not managing the situation but more so because employees try to carry on, despite what they are feeling. In more recent economic times, people are more likely to be worried about losing their jobs, and they want and need to continue working when they can.

In fact, serious illnesses can force people to stay home from work. However, it’s the focus around more chronic illnesses such as migraines, headache, back pain, gastrointestinal disorders and mental health such as anxiety and depression that affect the rates of presenteeism and productivity dramatically.

These illnesses can affect the ability of staff to work productively. It may be that they work slower than normal or make more mistakes. It could even affect workplace relationships and cause more stress or conflict throughout the company.

employee meeting

What can managers do to help?

Identifying presenteeism can be difficult for any manager, but there may be certain steps or policies employers can follow to ensure their staff is happy, healthy and productive.

Generate awareness

It’s important that managers are trained to spot the signs and lead by example when it comes to their employees. Managers should encourage sick employees to go home instead of working whilst ill to give them time to recover. It’s also important to highlight to employees the importance of being fit for work and how it can enhance their productivity.

It’s not just educating managers, but also employees to enhance productivity. Education surrounding well-being and health can help employees take better care of themselves. They can focus on lifestyle activities that improve their health to prevent sickness.

Regular meetings with employees

Regular meetings between management and employees can help monitor productivity. By keeping up to date with targets and performance, significant changes can be detected.

Keeping in touch with employees can help to monitor performance as well as establish a relationship where the employee feels more secure in their job. This can help them to be more upfront and honest when it comes to any illness. These meetings can help to agree taking time off for any illness or medical condition.

In addition to this, these meetings can be used to address any disengagement amongst staff, even if they aren’t ill. It can help to detect high work-loads, staff feeling undervalued, or if employers are becoming bored with their tasks and craving more challenging work. This can help to avoid absenteeism or presenteeism by improving engagement earlier on in the process.

Encourage time off

It’s important to encourage employees to take their designated holiday throughout the year. This time can help them to rest and relax and avoid overworking. During this time, it’s important that they can shut off from work. This means avoiding answering emails or being in contact with work.

If employees are not taking their designated holiday, managers should be encouraging them to take it. This can help to counteract the cost of presenteeism and encourage productivity amongst workers.

Similarly, using disciplinary actions against employees that exceed their sick day allowance could lead to staff turning up to work when sick. Therefore, it’s important for employers to have a capability and sickness policy in place to support employees returning to work or taking time off due to illness.

Even if they feel well enough to work, but are contagious, employers could set up a work from home policy. This can avoid other employees catching the illness until the employee is well enough to come back into the office.

Offer paid sick leave

Where employers do not enhance sick pay over the statutory limit, employees could be forced to attend work when ill. This may be as a result of money worries. If taking time off could lead to missed bill payments, staff may feel obliged to attend work, even if they are unwell.

Similarly, if attendance levels are rewarded, it can encourage people to come into work when they are actually ill. Rather than take the time needed to get better. This could cost the company more money than actually providing their staff with sick pay due to lost productivity. Sick pay can help to reduce these worries. Therefore, an employee is more likely to take the time off to get well, rather than attend work.

Alternatively, you can offer your employees income protection or private medical insurance. This can help them to get quicker access to health care for a faster return to work. There are also schemes you can set up to encourage a healthier lifestyle such as cycle or walk to work, gym memberships and free fruit and healthy lunches.

Reducing stigma

When an employee takes too much time off or suffers from an invisible health condition such as mental health, there can be stigma attached. People could also be worried that employers don’t believe their sickness is genuine. These situations could cause people to come into work when they are ill instead of taking time off to recover.

Similarly, issues surrounding stress and larger workloads need to be addressed. This is so that people aren’t spending more time at work than necessary and wearing themselves out. By setting up correct policies, establishing relationships with employees and educating the workplace, these stigmas can be avoided. It can ensure that staff feel comfortable taking time off when necessary. As a result, they can come back to work when they are at full health and able to perform productively.