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No more soldering on – presenteeism in the spotlight

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

The issue of presenteeism, where employees attend work when ill rather than fall foul of the strictly enforced absence policy or in the case of senior managers concern at being seen as lacking in stamina and commitment, has been recognised for many years. However, management and therefore HR have focused on absenteeism taking the view the bigger problem is days lost through staff non-attendance. People taking odd days off disrupts the smooth operation, causes ill will amongst colleagues who must pick up the extra work and is an additional cost in providing cover, to say nothing of the damage to customer care and the organisations reputation.

We are dealing with two groups of staff those who come to work when they shouldn’t and those who don’t come when they should. The attendance strategy needs to cover both.

The punitive strategy whereby staff are either not paid for the first so many days absence or risk dismissal through an arbitrary 3 strikes and you’re out policy encourages staff to come to work when they may be displaying symptoms of infection. So other ways need to be found to tackle unauthorised absences.

The second group are those who the health secretary referred to as “ soldering on” they recognise they are unwell but refuse to give in to the symptoms failing to knowledge that they are infecting others or they are managers who feel under pressure not to have time off for minor ailments as this will be seen as weakness and lack of commitment. This group needs to accept that everyone is occasionally ill and the sensible thing to do is stay off work till your well.

Could this last group be identified by organisations using the same method as airlines of taking the employee’s temperature at the entrance to work.

For the first group are we going to revert to a more generous sick pay system and a less punitive more flexible approach to absence. Put the emphases back on monitoring, back to work interviews and the use of occupational health to identifying underlying health problems.

Even with a vaccine COVID 19 and other flu like infections are likely to be with us for the foreseeable future so organisation need to develop strategies for minimising the number of employees, “soldering on”.

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