Presenteeism – Clocking in the hours, but not the work

  • November 25, 2022
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Presenteeism – it’s the illusion of a worker being physically present in the workplace and productive, although, in truth – it’s quite the opposite, as they’re unproductive due to sickness. 

Presenteeism is a sore point for many businesses as if the practice is widespread, employee mental health, physical wellbeing, team spirit and profitability can decline. From unmotivated and unfit employees to a shrinking bottom line, presenteeism poses a threat to employers and employees alike. 

A report from Deloitte found that employers lose between £16.5 billion and £21 billion to presenteeism every year. 

Keith Tully of Real Business Rescue, a company insolvency expert, deep dives into the topic of presenteeism, why presenteeism may occur and the consequences for businesses and individuals. 

The pressing problem of presenteeism in the workplace 

Presenteeism cloaks the real problems employees face, as there’s an expectation in most workplaces that if employees are physically present, they are well, able, and focused. In reality, employees may still attend work while they are consumed by sickness, including mental health problems, stress and burnout. 

Although their situation may warrant an authorised hiatus from work life, many factors will influence their decision to continue to attend work. 

According to the Health and Well-being at Work survey from CIPD and Simplyhealth, Presenteeism has more than tripled since 2010, with just around 27% of organisations taking steps to address the unhealthy workplace practice. 

This starts by understanding what factors feed into the cycle of presenteeism.   

  • Work culture – Is it common practice for employees to continue to fulfil their professional obligations even while sick, as there’s a lack of transparency, flexibility and understanding in the workplace? If leadership staff fail to act as role models by taking time off work when ill, employees will mirror this attitude. If health in the workplace is valued at the same level as output and productivity, this can drive down presenteeism. 
  • Absence policy – If the absence policy is vague or restrictive around sick pay and the terms under which an employee is eligible for sick pay, this could deter employees from taking time off when sick. A clear absence policy offering financial security is vital to encourage employees to take time off work when ill. 
  • Burnout – If expectations at work are exceptionally high, this could lead to burnout. While employees may continue to clock in as a performance tactic, they may feel overwhelmed and exhausted, unable to work productively. 

Leavism is also a point of concern which is when annual leave is used to catch up with work or take time out while sick. The CIPD and Simplyhealth survey found that two-thirds (67%) of HR respondents are aware of some form of ‘leaveism’. 

  • Lack of flexibility – More flexibility to sick employees, such as the option to work from the comfort of their home while ill can help drive down presenteeism and leaveism. 

If there’s limited flexibility with no give for reasonable adjustments, employees may well bite the bullet, continue to work while ill. 

Remedy to presenteeism 

From investigating the root causes, to taking practical steps to discourage presenteeism, the perception that presenteeism is an acceptable practice must be erased. Employers and employees alike can equally play a part in driving down presenteeism by valuing health at the same level as profitability. 

This can be reinforced by tightening sickness policies to provide more security to sick employees, in addition to clearing up guidance and policies surrounding the topic of sickness and attendance. This can be regulated by monitoring presenteeism and requesting employees to take time off work where warning signs of presenteeism are present. 

The Stevenson/Farmer Thriving at Work review found that 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems lose their jobs each year. 

Providing professional training to employers on how to help employees thrive in the workplace by supporting their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing can help reduce presenteeism, improve retention and provide better job security to individuals. 

A lack of job security, flexibility and motivation in the workplace can also push disengaged employees to only complete the paid task at hand, without going the extra mile. This is known as quiet quitting.

What is Quiet Quitting?

Quiet quitting is when employee performance is at the bare minimum and just enough to fulfil requirements, so as not to raise red flags or alarm bells. It’s when staff complete the tasks assigned to them but fall short of going the extra mile to elevate their work or exceed expectations. The quiet quitting trend gained momentum as a result of Covid-19 induced burnout which pushed employees to value a better work-life balance. 

The global workplace survey conducted by global researchers, Gallup, found that quiet quitters make up at least half of the US workforce.  Although the term was recently coined, the quiet quitting phenomenon has always been around which feeds into the wider web of challenges experienced by businesses. 

Quiet quitting is a testament to severe motivation deficiencies in the workplace, alongside a lack of incentives and job security. 

Remedies for quiet quitting include:

  • Personal development – Investing in staff by providing personal development opportunities as a token of appreciation can boost motivation and ambition. It can inspire staff to work to the best of their ability which their work will reflect. 
  • Research from the University of Oxford found that workers are 13% more productive when happy, so a fulfilled employee is likely to work harder. 
  • Paid sick leave – Job security in the form of paid sick leave can motivate staff to work harder and appreciate their jobs. Once employees can appreciate their job, they will naturally work harder to protect themselves and exceed in their roles. 
  • Wellness programs – Employee wellness programs can add value to professional life and uplift mood and boost performance as the mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing of staff is supported. This not only makes for healthier employees, but a healthier workplace. 
  • The Gallup report found that quiet quitting costs employers up to 34% of a disengaged employee’s salary, so while employees clock in the hours, but not the work, addressing the problem can prove beneficial to both parties.
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