What is Presenteeism and How Can You Manage it?


Presenteeism isn't just a buzzword, it's a real issue in the workplace today.

According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), employers lost over 30.7 million working days due to work-related ill health and non-fatal workplace injuries ' with presenteeism playing an integral role in this.

In fact, one report claims that it costs businesses just over '30 billion annually.

With this in mind, what are the causes of presenteeism and how can you manage it as an employer? Here's everything you need to know.

What is presenteeism?   

Let's start with the definition. In layman's terms, presenteeism is where an employee is present at work for more hours than required or expected, yet they aren't fully engaged in what they do.

For instance, they might be carrying an illness, but are fearful of losing their job or getting behind on work so they continue to come in.

However, by doing this, they aren't productive and/or can make others ill.

Presenteeism is a vicious circle which can significantly impact the way your business operates on a day-to-day basis.  

In a 2017 study, the average number of sickness absence days employees took in 2017 was almost half as less than what it was in 1993.

This suggests that employees are either much healthier people (highly unlikely) or they simply don't want to take a day off due to the high demands of the workplace.

The Centre for Mental Health believes presenteeism plays a key role in triggering mental health issues too, which in itself costs the UK economy '15.1 billion a year through sickness.

Unlike absenteeism, whereby the employee doesn't turn up to work without a valid reason, presenteesim isn't easy to measure.

This makes it very hard to know how to manage it.

Nevertheless, a CIPD survey found that nearly three-quarters of employees surveyed admitted to having observed presenteeism in the workplace.

The question is, what's the solution?

The causes of presenteesim

In order to manage the situation, you need to know what the causes of it are first.

Unsurprisingly, there are a variety of reasons why it happens, thus, making it a lot harder to identify.

The most common causes of presenteeism include:

- A desire to save sick days or holiday allowances.

- Not feeling secure in a job.

- Loyalty towards the job or their colleagues.

- Ongoing pressure from their supervisor or manager to hit unrealistic deadlines.

- No sick pay is offered if they're absent for less than four days.

- They have financial issues.

- Signs of mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and stress.

How to manage presenteeism

The bottom line is, it simply isn't possible to monitor every employee all day long.

Instead, you should use special tools that help do it for you.

For example, the World Health Organisation's health and work performance questionnaire help you calculate the cost of health issues in terms of declines in performance and increases in sick absences/work injuries.

While the Stanford Presenteeism Scale (SPS) will give you an overall cost of the issue.

It does this by getting all your employees to compare their productivity for the month in comparison to the previous, as a direct result of illnesses.

If the results you get show that your company has an issue with presenteeism in the workplace, you need to take proactive steps to manage it.

One of the best ways to do this is to evaluate the workload of your employees.

Are you asking them to do too much? Are you understaffed and need to hire a new employee to support others?

The key is to let your employees know that you're open to chatting.

Leading a team doesn't mean you have to create this divide of seniority between them and you.

Be their friend as well as their leader and manager.

Another way of managing presenteeism is to offer flexible working hours.

If an employee is struggling to juggle other life commitments, yet can't take any time off due to financial issues, let them fit their work around their lifestyle.

It's about trusting your employees to manage their own time.

They don't need you to micro-manage their time if they're hard-working and committed.

From the financial side of things, flexible working hours can also help employees cut down on childcare costs, dog walkers and so on, as they can attend to these things without sacrificing working hours.

You should also look to set an example too.

If you're constantly working every hour under the sun and refuse to take sick days off, your employees will feel obliged to follow suit.

Final thoughts

The main thing to remember when managing presenteeism is to use the right tools to identify the issue and always communicate with your employees.

You see, the more open they are with you, the easier it'll be to find a tailored solution before it gets out of hand.

It's a basic principle of quality work trumps higher quantities at a poorer standard.

Drill this philosophy into your head and you'll successfully tackle presenteeism.

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