Presenteeism – it’s time to grab this tiger by the tail…

We’ve all done it:  Dragged ourselves into work when feeling sick as a dog – or emotionally under par.  It’s fair to say those days weren’t our most productive, or our happiest at work!

“Presenteeism,” it would seem, is the close cousin of absenteeism who manages to insidiously dodge the limelight.

How do we define presenteeism exactly?

“Presenteeism” is being at work when you shouldn’t be and when as a result, as a result you are under productive. There are a number of different types of employees who exhibit presenteeism. These include:

  • Those who are simply workaholics and hence exhausted but at work.
  • The unwell (physically or emotionally) employee who still fronts up.
  • The disenfranchised employee – there in person but unwilling to work as required.

There are, therefore, many reasons why presenteeisim occurs. Our fast and increasingly digital and competitive work environments are only but encouraging it’s spread, however.

Why should we be taking more notice of presenteeism?

Presenteeism is expensive to business…very expensive. A recent report by Pathology Australia discussed in HRM online suggests that the cost of presenteeism annually in Australia is $34 billion. Yep – that’s big bikkies!

So what can we do about it?

If you were questioning whether it would be good to implement a workplace wellness program then now is the time to get your act together – But…. (and there is a big but), the research I have seen suggests that a wellness program is far less effective if the underlying workplace culture and employee engagement is poor.

My top tips on improving engagement and culture are:

  • Regularly educate staff and leaders about #presenteeism and its effects to reinforce behaviour change.
  • Ensure someone is accountable for reducing presenteeism and design kpi’s to both measure and check.
  • Encourage staff to take leave regularly to ensure they are well rested. This can be tricky if you are an industry that shuts down at Christmas but extra days on the back of public holidays can be useful. Maybe it’s time to relax the strict timing of leave taken?
  • Actively discourage (verbally, written and otherwise) staff from being at work when unwell.
  • Finally, and very importantly, encourage your leaders to walk the talk. Work-life balance is a key element of quality productivity in the new world of work. From the top down, in combo with all the other parts of the employee experience, this way of working should be the “new normal” to optimise productivity and people.

Lexie Wilkins, Culture and Employee-Engagement Expert and Director, Lexie Wilkins Consulting

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