The Presenteeism Problem

26 September, 2018

One of the biggest buzzwords for UK employers in 2018 must surely be ‘presenteeism’. According to recent data from the ONS, sickness absence is at its lowest rate on record, having almost halved from 1993 to 2017. But are people really getting sick less? Or are businesses suffering from something called presenteeism – and bearing the financial and ethical costs to boot.

What is ‘Presenteeism’?

Well, the simple answer is that it’s the opposite of absenteeism; being at work when you’re sick, injured, or otherwise not at your best. “Great,” you may be thinking. “Employees are more committed to their workplace, and aren’t falling behind on productivity as a result, right?” Wrong. Certainly it means that a day isn’t completely lost in the short-term, but what impact does this have on the employee and their long-term productivity – and even other employees?

Take John, for example:

John works in an office and has come down with a rotten case of the flu. Instead of taking time off to rest and go to the doctor, John decides to carry on working – he has deadlines to meet, after all. John medicates himself through the day and just about meets his deadlines, in between bouts of vomiting and feverish sweats. But now John is stressed and feeling drained – he can put off his next report until tomorrow, can’t he? Maybe he’ll feel better by then. Maybe not.

Jane shares an office with John. Jane had been feeling fine, but now she’s come down with the flu too. Mr. Manager, cautious of an epidemic on his hands, decides to send both John and Jane home – now the amount of work not getting done has doubled and Mr. Manager is faced with getting temporary cover, or piling the work on to already busy other departments.

Woman with Cold at Desk

Sometimes the most productive staff are at home, recovering.

It’s an all too familiar story; there’s a bug going around the office, but no one wants to be the person to ‘give up and go home’, so to speak. The real problem here lies in the why of it all. Why didn’t John feel like he could go home? Why did he decide that his deadlines were more important than his health?

Company culture can play a part, of course. If John’s colleagues or managers don’t take time off when they’re suffering with illness, why should he? The problem, therefore, lies at the top, with Mr. Manager.

Prevention is Key

Ultimately, change must come from the top. A company must be willing to make alterations to the way it views employees from an HR perspective. According to a CIPD survey, over 86% of respondents had observed presenteeism in their organisation during 2017, compared with 72% in 2016 and only 26% as recently as 2010. Clearly employees feel more compelled than ever (whether internally or externally) to do their job when they know they shouldn’t, and this can have disastrous effects on wellbeing long-term, without appropriate action plans in place.

A ‘well’ employee (i.e. not sick or injured, short or long term) is the most productive member of staff. They take the least days off and output work at the highest rate. This is the ideal employee. As such, a business must have measures in place to ensure that ‘well’ employees stay that way, and this is where a Workplace Wellbeing Strategy comes in to play.

There are four crucial elements to developing a Workplace Wellbeing Strategy. These are:

  • Understanding the meaning of health promotion; its ethics, values and evidence-based practice
  • Building a case for workplace health promotion
  • Designing a wellbeing programme based on the needs of the organisation
  • Constantly evaluating and evolving the wellbeing programme

Here at New Leaf Health we specialise in helping companies develop their own Workplace Wellbeing Strategies, through a specially designed course, held throughout the UK, developed specifically for Wellbeing Coordinators. Whether you’re a Wellbeing Lead, a Health and Safety Practitioner, a Human Resource Professional, or even a Senior Manager, our Workplace Wellbeing Coordinators Course will guide you through the steps required to take wellbeing forward at your organisation.

For more information on our services and expertise, please send us an email and we’ll get back to you, or request a brochure.

Remember – Prevention is better than a cure.

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