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Send presenteeism packing
As we move into the New Year, many of you will be looking at ways to develop a skilled, knowledgeable and healthy team, capable of producing the results you want to see in 2014. Absence management and absenteeism may well be something that is on your ‘to-do’ list, but is presenteeism?
Presenteeism, or employees coming into work when they are unwell is becoming an increasing phenomena in British workplaces. While HR professionals may celebrate the fact that absence management rates have remained relatively flat during the recession, it has been speculated that presenteeism costs UK workplaces £15bn per year, compared to around £8bn for absenteeism.
Observers of HR practices are now seeing an iceberg effect in which the more visible portion of work loss (absenteeism) is dwarfed by the portion beneath the surface (presenteeism). The reason for this is that although it is more prevalent, it is also more difficult to account for.
There are a multitude of reasons why employees may come in while unwell. One of the frequently cited reasons is employees who are worried about their job security, such as in a downsizing organisation feel pressured to come in to work regardless of their health. Employees can also feel pressured by their peers. If they feel like they may be criticised or judged negatively by their work colleagues they again, will be less likely to stay off when unwell. With ever increasing pressures placed upon many individuals’ workloads, some employees now feel that regardless of the state of their health, they cannot afford to take any time off.
At the start of the 20th Century it was good practice to turn up when sick as one person being off could hamper an entire production line. Now culture has swung in the opposite direction, where employees are more likely to skip on lunch and coffee breaks in order that they can get more work done. As if to compound this issue, not only has culture changed, but mind-sets have almost become backwards as well. Many employees now proudly pronounce that ”they have never taken a day off sick”, when they should in fact be saying “I gave my entire office the flu rather than taking a few days off”.
The CIPD reported that 93% employers reported seeing increased levels of people coming into work ill during the last year.
Stress is caused by different issues. In 2007-10 the number one cause was “too much change in the workplace” but in 2011-13 this had changed to “not enough time to do my job”. The most common reason why people came into work when sick was ‘they didn’t think it was serious enough to take time off’ (76%)
80% said they would not take time off for stress related illnesses. 81% said they had caught illnesses from colleagues.
So what can we do about it?
- Counter any hint of criticism from colleagues so that employees do not feel coerced into attending when they are not well. Employees cannot be judged upon how many days they are present or not present at their desks.
- Ensure that there are adequate policies and procedures in place to ensure there isn’t anything that might discourage employees to take a sick day. Procedures should be in place so that an employee can take a day of without fearing what impact it will have on the security of their job.
- Focus on wellbeing. Wellbeing is increasingly being incorporated into HR and workplace strategies to ward off the effects of sickness and stress allowing individuals to focus on their work.
- Set the correct example. If leaders are sick, they should not be present as much as employees. Little more needs to be said on this point other than to say that the same rules should be applied to everyone.
- Offer flexible working arrangements or working from home so that employees have the best working environment suitable for their needs. Studies show that flexible working arrangements actually raise output levels from employees while at the same time reducing stress.
- Change mind-sets so every employee is clear that if they are unwell they should not be at work.
- Cross train employees so that different business functions can be covered by available employees should one be absent. This will not only raise levels of empowerment, top employees enjoy learning new skills.
- Leaders should be having meaningful dialogue with employees. This way they are more likely to be able to detect and pre-empt any issues and deal more appropriately with them should they actually arise. They need to be suitably trained and empathetic to employees so that they can find out how the employee is feeling. While physical ailments may be able to spot, it is worth remembering that mental or psychological symptoms may be much harder to pinpoint.
- Change the culture within the organisation. Remove “aggressive” absence policies and begin moving to a more trusting one.
Absenteeism and presenteeism are sure to be hot topics again in 2014. We look forward to seeing whether a change in culture and mind-sets can stop employees from feeling the need to turn even when they are not physically fit to do so.