Work Politics

6 Ways to Reduce Presenteeism in the Workplace

absenteeism and presenteeism

Workplace presenteeism is a significant but often overlooked headache for employers.

According to the Financial Times, the concept, whereby employees are physically present at work without feeling motivated or even able to fulfil their duties to the best of their abilities, costs organisations approximately 35 productive days per employee every year.

To put that statistic into context, the better-known term ‘absenteeism’, whereby an employee is physically absent from work, is responsible for just three.

Seeing an employee admirably soldier on while clearly under the weather might be seen as a show of commitment, demonstrating their loyalty to the organisation, but it can often do more harm than good by extending their required recovery period and even spreading the illness around your workplace.

Furthermore, according to a study conducted by the University of Sheffield, 26% of people who have poor mental health also experience presenteeism, showing that the reasons for this professional phenomenon are as complex as it is detrimental.

So, what can you, as an employer, do to prevent presenteeism within your organisation?

Things like clearly publishing an annual leave policy in your employment handbook, training mental health first aiders and even introducing flexible working hours are all ways to reduce the impact of presenteeism.

In this blog post, we seek to highlight several that could prove to be the most effective.

Before we explore each one in turn, it is first important to note that there are other reasons for presenteeism amongst your members of staff aside from physical and mental health problems.

What else can cause presenteeism?

An employee might be fit, healthy, and happy in every aspect of their life, but they can still experience presenteeism at work.

Reasons aside from mental or physical health problems might include an absence of support, fear of losing their job, negative work-life balance, poor leadership, stagnant career progression, an excessive workload, unclear expectations, and burnout.

Anything that might play on our mind, distract our focus, reduce our motivation or physically incapacitate us can contribute to an employee’s presenteeism. It is a complicated phenomenon requiring a holistic approach to solving it.

How can you reduce presenteeism in your workplace?

1. Check-in with employees regularly

Measuring presenteeism is difficult because simply looking at your employees’ collective or even individual output is unlikely to tell the full story.

For example, if they work in a sales role, but their monthly figures have been relatively low compared to previous periods, you might suggest that the underlying issue is presenteeism.

In fact, any number of external factors could have influenced the decline, such as a reduction in consumer demand for your product or service, or simply disruption caused by colleagues within the office.

To gain a full understanding of where presenteeism might be occurring, it is important to combine productivity data – such as recorded sales – with regular one-to-one meetings, allowing employees to provide context and enabling team leaders to spot signs of demotivation, mental health issues, and any other factors that could indicate presenteeism.

It is also advisable to issue regular anonymous surveys that ask questions such as, “On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest), how motivated do you feel while at work?” or “‘I feel mentally supported while at work’ – do you agree or disagree with that statement?”

Undertaking these surveys can highlight particular trends related to presenteeism and suggest steps that you, as an employer, could take to remedy the situation (such as introducing a specific employment benefit).

Examples of gender discrimination, sexism in the workplace examples
absenteeism and presenteeism

2. Encourage employees to use sick leave

According to a recent survey, 67% of employees feel guilty or apprehensive about taking time off work when they are experiencing health-related issues.

Broken down into individual reasons, 40% of survey participants continue working because they are worried about falling behind on their workload, 24% experience pressure from their boss, and 22% simply want to be seen in the workplace – failure to do so could be incorrectly perceived as weakness.

It is, clearly, a multi-pronged problem, requiring a comprehensive response from your management teams.

First and foremost, they should adopt the attitude that health comes before anything else – before results, before deadlines, and before attendance targets.

Doing so can help reduce the stigma around sick leave and go some way to alleviating the anxiety associated with workloads.

Aside from the culture changes, it would also be sensible to implement the practical measure of regularly reviewing workload distribution.

This might involve deploying workload tracking software that can ensure tasks are distributed equitably among team members, as well as conducting regular check-ins to discuss ongoing projects and challenges.

To ensure that no work falls through the cracks when an employee is absent, including other colleagues in project-related communications can ensure they are clued up and can pick up tasks at short notice.

3. Communicate your organisation’s absence policy

An employment handbook is one of the most effective tools that you have for communicating the rights and responsibilities of your workforce.

Alongside things like your social media policy, probationary period and dress code should be a section that clearly outlines the remuneration an employee is entitled to when they are absent due to sickness, as well as the process that should be followed to report that absence.

The standard expectation might be that the employee must call their line manager before their appointed working time to report sickness, however, it is worth considering that according to The Guardian, more than three-quarters of UK adults own a smartphone, but 25% of them do not use them to make calls – perhaps owing to anxiety.

To encourage employees to report their sickness and take their entitled sick leave, you might, therefore, introduce a texting system, whereby a simple message is all that is required.

4. Implement a flexible working policy

By implementing a flexible working policy, you are taking a strategic step that acknowledges the diverse needs and preferences of your workforce.

The policy can encompass various options, such as telecommuting, flextime, compressed workweeks, or job-sharing arrangements, all of which contribute to the overall well-being of employees.

There are plenty of benefits associated with flexible working, but one of the most relevant in relation to presenteeism is the marked improvement in an employee’s mental health – one of the phenomenon’s leading causes.

In fact, a recent survey found that nearly 40% of people under the age of 45 who have flexible working believe it has offered marked improvements in their mental health.

But improved mental health is not the only outcome of flexible working; approximately 73% of managers believe that tailoring the working environment (including location or hours) to meet the needs of the employee can boost productivity and, thus, profits.

5. Provide mental health support

Approximately one employee in every seven experiences mental health problems whilst they are at work.

As we have already mentioned, these can impact their ability to focus, their engagement, motivation, and the relationships they forge with their colleagues.

While the occurrence of psychological issues is quite universal within the workplace, the willingness to talk about them is not.

According to the mental health charity Mind, approximately one in three adults are reluctant to talk about the subject.

It is, therefore, recommended that you don’t force conversations regarding mental health on your employees.

Instead, a better approach would be to cultivate an accepting, open environment where discussion is encouraged, without making anybody feel uncomfortable.

A proactive step that you, as an employer, can take is to offer mental health first aid training to your members of staff, allowing them to spot the signs of mental duress and equipping them with the ability to have confidential conversations with colleagues who might be struggling.

6. Invest in employee development

As we mentioned earlier, a significant – albeit marginal when taking physical health and mental health into account – driving factor behind presenteeism is the feeling of career stagnation.

If an employee feels like their professional life isn’t evolving or going anywhere, their motivation is likely to suffer and, with it, their productivity.

They might be physically present, but their eyes are likely to be on the door or simply staring out the window.

If the presenteeism persists, it is known as ‘quiet quitting’, fulfilling duties expected of them, but not going above or beyond them.

To prevent employees from professionally stagnating, you should consider regular one-to-one meetings between the employee and their line manager.

These meetings can help to identify ambitions, highlight areas for skill development, and create a roadmap for career growth.

Investing in employee development goes beyond addressing the immediate concerns of presenteeism; it lays the foundation for a motivated and skilled workforce, one that is forever moving the organisation forward, as well as themselves.

Conclusion

Presenteeism is a challenge for almost any employer, potentially impacting morale and overall productivity.

Thankfully, there is a range of solutions that can be deployed to reduce and prevent it from taking hold.

Whether you provide mental health support, the opportunity to work flexibly, simply encourage openness on the subject of sick leave or – ideally – combine different methods in a holistic approach, you can create a working environment that prioritises employee wellbeing without sacrificing profits.

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About Pam Loch

Pam Loch leads Loch Associates Group who are experts in developing solutions to help organisations manage and look after their people. With a team of employment solicitors and HR consultants in Kent, London and Sussex, they provide a unique combination of employment law, HR, wellbeing and mediation expertise.

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