What is Presenteeism?
When you think about your organization’s culture, have you considered your policies on vacation time, sick time, and other paid time off options? Outside of HR, time off is likely not on the mind of the executive team. Perhaps they are concerned about absenteeism. But another issue may be costing them more money, presenteeism. But what is presenteeism, and how does it affect employee wellbeing and company productivity?
A recent article from Factorial provides a good definition of presenteeism, “Presenteeism occurs when employees go to work but they are not performing at full capacity for genuine, justifiable reasons. For example, productivity may be affected due to mental health issues, stress, tiredness, or minor health conditions such as allergies, arthritis, or migraines. The term does not relate to employees who are slacking or unproductive because they are purposefully avoiding work. It is a lack of productivity as a direct result of physical or mental health disorders.”
Not being at full capacity is a silent and difficult-to-measure issue for companies. And the impact of presenteeism is more wide-reaching than people may estimate. According to a December 2003 article, health-related loss of productive work cost companies more than $225 billion.
The consequences of presenteeism go beyond lack of productivity and include higher healthcare costs, more turnover and related hiring costs, and negative impact on employee engagement and company culture.
As you would assume, jobs that carry a lot of stress, like healthcare and first responders, tend to see presenteeism quite often. But it is also an issue in companies with a demanding culture or those that don’t prioritize employee engagement. The pandemic exacerbated presenteeism as employees working from home felt more pressure to be accessible online at all hours, leading to burnout.
The best option to reduce presenteeism is to build a culture that supports employee wellbeing. For example, ensure employees know they can be honest about their health needs without worrying that it will negatively impact their job. And be transparent on maintaining a healthy work-life balance and encourage employees to not only take their time off but to disconnect from the office when they do.
This will likely be a change for many employees, so make it a point when interviewing new employees and during the onboarding process. For existing employees, make it a natural part of all-hand meetings and employee reviews. Conduct routine surveys on employee engagement and job satisfaction and use the feedback to improve. Share resources they can tap into, like employee assistance programs (EAPs) and online wellness learning or training options.
Another way to build this type of culture is for the executive team to model the behaviors themselves. The best way to do this is to manage the workload expectations. Employees should know that they will be expected to perform but that their workload will be reasonable. Other examples include taking vacations and unplugging, staying home when you’re sick, and being cognizant of not working around the clock – e.g., being aware of when you send emails to staff.
Other ideas to consider include providing healthy snack and beverage options, offering fitness options like a workout room, basketball court, yoga classes, etc…, or providing quiet rooms for meditating or decompressing. And this type of culture will also support sufficient paid time off and sick leave and is flexible enough to support health-related needs. Hence, employees understand they can be open and honest without fearing repercussions.
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