Is too much work making you sick?

Research in the field of presenteeism is a growing academic and business interest. Its causes warrant concern for organisations globally, because it has been linked to higher economic costs, thwarting business productivity, both in terms of quality of work and quantity, and also leading to further ill health in employees that engage in presenteeist behaviour. Much of the research has centred on large corporate organisations, but entrepreneurs growing their small businesses may also be at risk.

Presenteeism is the opposite of absenteeism. Rather than using sick days to recover from ill health, whether physically or mentally, those that engage in presenteeism will often go to work when ill. Employees that go to work when ill, or work longer hours than expected, often work less than their full capacity, therefore resulting in a decline in productivity. Reduced absence in the form of presenteeism may appear to be profitable, however, this is not the case. In fact, presenteeism can cause a decline in productivity in the individual employee by at least one third.

Causes and costs of presenteeism

Many of the causes of presenteeism and subsequent burnout are linked to poor leadership, lack of managerial support and structural level problems within the organisation.

While the causes of presenteeism vary, and standardised tests have failed to grasp the full reality of the phenomenon, the costs to the organisation due to decreased productivity, the significant societal burden, and the costs to the employee emotionally and physically mean it’s a problem worth preventing.

What can bosses do?

Starting a business is a demanding time. You’re wearing plenty of hats and you’re running on the high of building a new business. There’s both anxiety and excitement. It goes without saying that long hours go with the territory of building a start-up. Many people feel guilty for taking time out because they have often left full-time work. They want to put their all into it.

It is important to understand that overdoing it can make you sick. Once bosses become more mindful of their feelings, they will be able to sense when having time out is the best option. Rest can boost productivity in the long run.

It is also important to lead by example when it comes to your staff. You need a healthy, happy team to support you. Eat a healthy diet, devoid of processed foods, looking to wholegrain food options for energy. Drink plenty of water, go out on lunch breaks and take regular walks during the working day. Even five minutes every hour can stimulate your energy levels.

Some bosses are prone to self-medicating during stressful times, but focusing on a healthy lifestyle will be of most benefit. Having a good night’s rest, learning pro-social coping, switching off during family time, and closing down for the day, are all effective methods for moderating against stress and burnout.

Sarah Tottle, business psychologist and coach and founder, Sarah Tottle Consulting

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