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Presenteeism – the UK’s biggest threat to productivity?

Steve Thompson

We all know about the effects of absenteeism – like forgotten Tupperware containers and broken coffee machines, it’s a natural part of office life. Contributor Steve Thompson, Managing Director – Forward Role Recruitment.

However, while in most workplaces there are measures in place to support members of staff who are absent, there are rarely any measures to address another, possibly more common problem: presenteeism.

The term “presenteeism” was originally used to describe the issue of employees coming into work while not physically or mentally well, instead of staying home and recuperating. The term has now been expanded also to include employees who are disengaged in their job — not altogether “present” in their day-to-day work.

What are the problems with presenteeism?
Presenteeism is currently one of the biggest threats to UK productivity and a key issue for organisations that want to look after the wellbeing of their staff. 72 percent of organisations consulted for a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) had experienced presenteeism over the past 12 months, and a further 29 percent had seen an increase in the issue.

Research has shown that people are significantly less productive when they are unwell and that they can also be a hazard to others by passing on the illness, which results in a knock-on effect of reduced productivity. Those who are disengaged are more likely to be careless with their job role, making more mistakes than engaged employees. As well as this, a loss of morale can often be as infectious as a cold.

Presenteeism causes businesses to suffer a detrimental impact on the quality and volume of work produced, with a further impact on overall business performance. Presenteeism can actually become more expensive for a business than other health-related costs.

Why does it happen?
Presenteeism stems from a lack of employee wellbeing initiatives. The CIPD found that presenteeism is common in companies where long working hours are encouraged, and admin and operational demands are seen as more important than staff morale.

The reasons people might come into work when sick include: Fears over job security; Lack of pay when absent; Fear of negative image (employees don’t want to look “lazy” or like they are slacking); A heavy workload

How can you prevent it?
57 percent if employees say that they would stay in their job longer if there was more effort put into looking after their wellbeing, and 58 percent believe their work would be of better quality if there were more well being measures in place. So, it’s important for businesses to take action to tackle this growing problem.

We’ve looked at some measures you can take to reduce the problem of presenteeism: Encourage staff to take time off: We all get sick sometimes, and even though it may look good on paper to have perfect attendance from the majority of your staff, business leaders shouldn’t encourage people to come in work until they have recovered from their illness and can work productively.

Use working from home to your advantage: If your staff claim that they can work but may be suffering from a contagious disease, you could look to put measures in place to have them work from home.

Review your sick pay policy: If you have a hard-line or aggressive sickness policy, you may want to review it. If staff don’t get paid while ill or if there are incentives for 100 percent attendance, you may be encouraging people to come in when they are actually ill.

Find out why your staff are disengaged: When it comes to staff being at work but not really “present” (even if they are in good health), employers should take the time to discover the route of the problem. Are your staff overworked, undervalued or time-poor? Or have they become bored with their tasks and crave a new challenge? Ask your staff to complete an anonymous satisfaction survey and find out areas you can improve on when it comes to employee engagement.

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