Presenteeism in Workplaces

Presenteeism in the workplace is a real problem in the modern world. Tackling absenteeism often takes priority. A guide for SMEs to tackle this.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: May 15, 2022
  • 5 Minutes
presenteeism at workplaces explained by Papershift

Presenteeism in the workplace is a growing concern for many small business owners. With staff members feeling forced to work through all the difficulties of the modern world, the issues surrounding presenteeism are becoming more and more prevalent. And dealing with the issue is becoming more and more difficult. 

It’s important for organisations to tackle presenteeism to encourage productivity and help staff avoid the physical and mental effects of not taking sick days when they need them.

But what exactly is presenteeism in the workplace and how can it be stopped. In this article, we will look to answer these questions and more.

Let’s begin.

What Does Presenteeism Mean?

Presenteeism can refer to a few different things. In its original meaning, presenteeism occurs when employees come into work when they are ill instead of recovering at home. This can lead to illnesses spreading throughout a workplace, as well as unwell employees taking longer to recover.

What Other Types Of Presenteeism In The Workplace Are There?

Over time, the definition of employee presenteeism has become more wide-reaching as the issue has spread beyond people electing not to take sickness absence. The term has started to cover cases such as:

  1. Habitually working overtime. Employees may habitually stay at work for longer than they need to due the pressures of their job. Overworking can lead to tiredness, poor health, and being less productive.
  2. Disengagement. Presenteeism can refer to situations where employees consistently turn up to work but aren’t fully engaged or motivated.
  3. Technological presenteeism. Some employees are regularly responding to emails and checking company updates outside of working hours. If they do it becomes harder to fully switch off and take a break from work-based activities.

In all types of presenteeism, employees prioritize being present at work over their health and wellbeing. 

Why Is Presenteeism A Problem?

Presenteeism can have long-term repercussions to the health and wellbeing of staff, particularly an employee’s mental health. In addition, presenteeism is very difficult to manage and requires a considerable degree of empathy to deal with effectively. The legal ramifications can also be tricky, especially if an employer has to ask someone to go home if they are at work and being paid.

On top of this, presenteeism is hard to track and monitor as part of absence initiatives. This is particularly true in the case of mental illness, where employees may feel obliged to turn up to work because of the stigma surrounding mental health problems.

What Is The Link Between Presenteeism And Mental Health?

The connections between presenteeism in the workplace and employee mental health is proven. Research shows that employee presenteeism is both caused by and a cause of stress and poor mental health for many working in small businesses in the UK. Increased stress, one of the main causes of long-term sickness in the UK, is one particular effect of presenteeism that causes a vast array of problems for the workplace. 

Regularly working long hours and going to work when ill can take a toll over time. According to mental health charities, almost 20% of people experience mental health problems in the workplace leading to a sickness absence. In contrast to this statistic, many UK workers are avoiding taking sick days for mental illness. This is in part due to the stigma attached to mental health problems, as well as other motivators for presenteeism.

As An Employer, How Do I Address The Causes Of Presenteeism In The Workplace

In order to properly address presenteeism in the workplace, it’s important to understand the underlying causes. If you are an employer you may need to consider the following aspects of the problem so you can thoroughly tackle it:

  • Review Absence Policies

Company absence policies are often designed to reduce absences. But if they’re not managed effectively you may get a rise in presenteeism instead. Taking a gentler and less disciplined approach to absences may help reduce the culture of uncertainty and insecurity that can fuel presenteeism. For instance, offering a number of paid sick days each year may reduce the financial burdens of employees and prevent them feeling like they have to attend work even when they are sick.

  • Consider Workloads And Skill-Sets

Employees sometimes feel pressure to be present at work because nobody else can cover the work that they do. Making sure that your organisation has enough people with the right skills to cover work is essential for reducing presenteeism.

  • Set Out Clearer Instructions For Sick Leave

Help your staff understand the thresholds for taking sick leave by providing clearer guidance of what you consider acceptable for absences to occur. For example, someone with a mild cold may come to work, but more severe symptoms such as a fever, coughing and sneezing may require sick leave.

  • Scrap Incentives Aimed at Attendance

Rewarding employees for good attendance may seem like a good idea but may have the negative side-effect of encouraging presenteeism. Even without rewards, employees may aim to achieve a perfect attendance record to display loyalty. It’s important to counteract this by placing emphasis on employees’ personal health and wellbeing.

  • Tackle the Stigma of Mental Health

When employees know they’re in a working environment where their mental health and wellbeing are important, they will be more likely to disclose stress and mental health issues instead of suffering in silence. This sort of sharing atmosphere can allow managers to monitor employees’ welfare more effectively as well as allowing employees to take the steps they need to reduce stress levels.

  • Limit Work Communications Outside Of The Workplace

If your employees find it difficult to switch off outside of working hours, make it clear to them that they don’t have to respond to work queries outside their working hours. Reinforce clearer lines between working and non-working hours, and encourage staff to switch off workplace communication when away from the job.

In Conclusion

Presenteeism in the workplace is a real problem in the modern world. Tackling absenteeism often takes priority. But without thinking about the mental health issues that come with employees being present at work when they should be at home, businesses may find they encounter more problems in the long run.

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Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams :-)