What is presenteeism and how can you spot the signs in your staff?

What is presenteeism and how can you spot the signs in your staff?

Sickness absence rates amongst staff are visible and pretty straightforward for employers to measure. Short term sickness absence is most commonly related to minor illness, with mental ill health, musculoskeletal issues, stress and acute medical conditions being the most common causes of long-term absence.

But these are just the issues you can see. What about presenteeism - the hidden threat in the modern workplace?

What is presenteeism?

It’s where employees are at work in body, but not in mind. This could be due to a physical or mental health issue, or it could be that they’re simply not motivated or engaged.

Presenteeism has tripled over the last 10 years according to the CIPD. Yet the percentage of organisations taking steps to discourage presenteeism has halved since 2016. So whilst 86% of employers reported observing presenteeism in their organisation during the last 12 months, only a quarter have actively taken steps to address the problem.

What causes presenteeism?

Lots of factors can cause presenteeism. For example, the decline in the 9 to 5 working culture can impact employees’ work-life balance and affect their health and wellbeing. With an ageing workforce, many employees now find themselves in the ‘sandwich generation’ with caring responsibilities for elderly relatives as well as children. They simply cannot always leave their problems at the door when they come to work.

The ‘always on’ culture fostered by increased workloads and advances in technology is contributing to a new phenomenon - ‘Leavism’. This is where employees aren’t switching off and may be working in the early morning before work, during the evenings, when they’re off work unwell or even whilst on holiday. So although employees may appreciate the positive aspects of flexible and remote working that technology enables, many may experience the negative impact of not being able to switch off out of work hours.

So how do you spot the signs in your staff and take action?

Line managers are on the front line and play a pivotal role in addressing presenteeism. They need to understand the importance of health and wellbeing, and foster a healthy working environment. Training for line managers is essential to help them spot the first signs of potential mental health issues, including presenteeism. They also need to feel confident enough to address the issue and support staff on sensitive issues. It’s not always easy.

Signs of presenteeism can include:

  • Making more mistakes than usual
  • Producing work of a low standard
  • Low productivity
  • Lack of care about results
  • Arriving late/leaving early
  • Conversely, missing lunch breaks/working long hours
  • Working whilst sick
  • Looking tired/exhausted

Leadership on health and wellbeing needs to come from the top.

It’s vitally important that health and wellbeing is high on the agenda of senior leaders. Short-term ‘quick fixes’ ultimately sell staff short, and any solutions introduced to tackle presenteeism need to form part of a broader health and wellbeing strategy, covering the whole of workforce. Any interventions introduced need to be measurable, so that the impact on the health and wellbeing of staff can be measured.

Our free Health & Wellbeing Toolkit contains all the information you need to start creating your company's strategy, featuring help and advice on everything from building the business case and exploring supplier options, to implementing and evaluating the process.

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