Presenteeism - how to identify it and stop it

Presenteeism - how to identify it and stop it

How to spot presenteeism in your workplace, and what can be done to prevent it.
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What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism is characterised by tired, unmotivated or ill employees showing up to work despite not feeling up to the task, and it’s far from uncommon, having been observed by 72% of people in their workplace.

The impact can be considerable, firstly for the employee, whose mental and physical well-being can be seriously compromised, with increased levels of stress and exhaustion. Never allowing themselves to recover from illness, returning to work too early – or never taking a break from work at all – also has a negative impact.

And for the employer, it naturally impacts on productivity but also can have a wider negative impact on general employee morale and ultimately be detrimental to the ability to retain employees.

What are the effects of presenteeism?

Working when feeling physically, emotionally, or mentally drained is not conducive with productivity, or high working standards. Without the correct recovery time when feeling under the weather in any capacity, illnesses can last longer and have a greater impact on businesses.

With the average worker missing out on 27 days’ worth of productive time due to presenteeism each year, the phenomenon can result in financial losses for a company. It is important that employees feel content in their working hours, otherwise they are less likely to fully engage with tasks, may avoid proper communication with their peers, and overall performance can suffer as a result.

How to spot presenteeism in the workplace

There is a big difference between being present and being productive. Simply being at work does not mean that someone is achieving their full potential, they could just be going through the motions of what is expected of them.

Here are some of the symptoms of presenteeism that you might be able to spot either in yourself, or your peers:

Presenteeism symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Low energy levels
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of motivation
  • Avoiding engaging with co-workers

Simply identifying symptoms can help your business to aid people suffering from presenteeism, by recommending they take the time off to rest, or suggesting ways they can get themselves feeling on top of things again.

A more efficient way of removing presenteeism from your workplace is to identify some of the root causes, why people might be feeling some of the symptoms above, and where the need to still show up comes from.

Woman sitting at her desk at night, her face is lit by the glow of her laptop

Presenteeism causes:

  • Employer expectations – if employers appear to not have tolerance for time off, employees are more likely to come in regardless of how they feel, in order to appear committed and in favour of their bosses.
  • Not enough paid sick days – some businesses do not provide as many paid sick days as others. In these organisations, employees are more likely to show up to avoid loss of pay.
  • Understaffing and overworking – being consistently overloaded with tasks can make work feel somewhat endless. This can be a result of a workplace having too few staff, but also a lack of empathy from managers and team leaders, who should be responsible for making sure workloads are manageable.

Preventing presenteeism in your workplace

Knowing what presenteeism might look like and what might be causing it can help you to prevent it happening in your workplace. The actions and interventions of the senior leadership team are essential in motivating team members, making sure there is a common goal for the business, and ensuring collective well-being is top of the agenda. Learn more on why managers need to set the standards in a hybrid workplace.

There are multiple ways to reduce presenteeism in the workplace and the growth of hybrid working is certainly helping to combat the phenomenon. More flexible work hours give employees more time to focus on their well-being and lives outside of work, which can mean they are better prepared to do what is asked of them when they are at work.

Promote a culture of wellness by introducing well-being activities, encourage positive communication, and spread the message that speaking up about how you are feeling is the right thing to do, and your company can begin to reduce negative mental health symptoms like stress and depression which ultimately lead to presenteeism.

Conducting regular check-ins and surveys to gauge how a workforce is feeling can be a very useful tool in removing presenteeism from your workplace. With the knowledge of how everyone in a team is feeling, you can provide them with the support they might need, the days off they might want but haven’t told you about and build a positive workplace culture that promotes a healthy work-life balance.

With presenteeism being a significant problem facing workplaces in the modern day, it is the duty of every organisation to invest time in preventing presenteeism, and create a healthy workplace culture that employees can thrive in.