Combating Presenteeism In Your Company

What is Presenteeism?

Although presenteeism is a well-known anomaly, it is vastly misunderstood and often regarded as unimportant. The most common definition of presenteeism is when employees are un- productive at work due to being unwell. At the very core, presenteeism is one of the most neglected contributing factors towards organizations losing billions of Rands every year. More often than not, employers focus so relentlessly on reducing absenteeism, that they completely overlook the mental and physical well-being of their employees.

Its Costing South Africa Millions

Presenteeism costs the country 4 times that of absenteeism. Where absenteeism is costing companies R25 billion a year, R89 Billion a year is lost to presenteeism. It affects millions of South Africans and diminishes numerous companies’ bottom line. Presenteeism runs far deeper than just having the flu or merely just shirking one’s responsibilities at work. Employees are being pushed to work longer and harder, even when mentally and physically unwell. This demonstrates a deep-seated idea that being present at work is more important than actually being productive while at work.

What Drives Preenteeism?

Managerial Behaviour

Managers significantly influence the work culture, and unbeknownst to them, are often the cause of staff presenteeism themselves. This behaviour could pressurise their employees to act in the same way, costing organisations billions. More often than not, employees also fear disciplinary action from their managers if any time off is needed. Studies have shown that the ratio of managerial presenteeism directly affects employees, and as a result employee presenteeism is significantly higher than normal in these work environments.

Company Culture

Company culture can greatly affect the productivity of employees. When trying to be productive in a work space where taking time off is looked down upon, most employees arrive at work ill or mentally unfit to perform their jobs properly. This kind of work ethic can be unknowingly perpetuated in an organisation by senior managers and long-time employees.

Colleague Concern

Studies have shown that presenteeism is higher within organisations where great importance is placed on employee attendance. Many employees also avoid taking time off in order to avoid their workload being given to a fellow colleague. This occurs especially where there are no replacements if they need time off, and overworking is the norm.

Poor Work – Life Balance

According to a WebMD article, employees who work between 61 – 71 hours a week are at higher risk for heart disease and stroke. The risk increases by 42% for those who place this kind of stress on themselves. This highlights the significant affect that overworking has, not only on employees’ physical health but also mental wellbeing.

Ways to Combat Presenteeism

Reducing Time – Pressured Deadlines

Although it may seem paradoxical that the less time employees are at work, the more that they can achieve, this stat has been proven when it comes to mentally or physically unfit individuals. However, without the pressure of working late, studies have shown that productivity is more likely to improve. Employees then begin to shift their focus on efficiency instead of just being present. A Study done by advisory firm Gallup in 2018 found that when employees are given the time needed to complete tasks, they are more likely to achieve their tasks and are 70% less likely to experiencing a burnout at work.

An Effective Employee Assistance Program

An effective Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is an essential employer sponsored program that offers services to employees in order to help them deal with personal problems. Studies show that organisations which have implemented an EAP have a return on investment (ROI) of up to R8,30 saved, for every R1 spent. One of the main purposes of an EAP is for early detection of problems. Giving your employees a platform to connect with the right resources to solve their problems is an important part of combating presenteeism.

There are a variety of studies available that show the effectiveness of EAPs and how productivity increases. This directly correlates with the decrease of mental health issues and suicide rates within the workplace.

Review policies that discourage sick leave

Although there may be an understanding of absenteeism in the work place, and many organisations have policies in place to manage it, they may not realise that these policies are a promoter of presenteeism. Organisational policies should be supportive of both managers and employees.

Open Communication

By creating a corporate culture of openness, a two – way – communication stream can be encouraged, allowing employees the freedom to express themselves with reassurance. If they need to discuss conditions without judgment, and to be aware of what treatment options are available to them open communication is vital. Organisations will then have a greater window of opportunity for early intervention and be able to help their employees if need be. Minor steps toward open communication are ongoing education around certain issues, such as sickness issues which could be done through briefings, seminars and even email newsletters.

There are a large variety of recommendations to combat presenteeism and the link between health, mental health and productivity is undeniable. Staying in tune with your team and giving them the services and tools to help when they are struggling is an important step towards optimising productivity and showing your employees that they are a priority.