Protecting people assets: beginning of the end for presenteeism?

Protecting people assets: beginning of the end for presenteeism?
Published: 28 June 2019

Nowhere is the divergence in attitude across the 3 or 4 generations we see in today’s workforce more acutely evident than in the area of ‘presenteeism’. Most employers are aware of the age-old problem of ‘absenteeism’ and have the measures in place to manage and support employees who are absent. Richard Love, Managing Director of Berwick Partners explains how most employers, they are unaware of the impacts of a growing trend; ‘Presenteeism’.

Often defined as employees being present in the work place for longer hours than required or, whilst they are unwell; presenteeism has gained its name from employees being physically ‘present’, whilst not fully functioning mentally, expanding more recently to include employers who are ‘disengaged’ with their job.

Research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) claims that 86% of employers have seen staff attend work while they are ill, as a result, posing a problem both in terms of an employee’s productivity and more importantly, theirs and others, health and quality of life.  

A disengaged employee is likely to have a significant impact upon a team or organisation. Resultant negative sentiment and the problems that stem from this can quickly become endemic, ultimately impacting on a business’ financial performance.

So why does it happen? From a heavy workload, fears over job security, lack of pay whilst absent or fear of negative image, there are numerous reasons why employees feel they need to be seen to be there.

What presenteeism signifies.

As a business leader, it is important to recognise what presenteeism signifies; potentially, a culture of fear and lower productivity than an engaged, high-performing workforce. With that in mind, businesses need to make decisions based on health rather than duty, requiring employers to trust their employees to take leave only when needed, fostering a culture of respect. 

We are also seeing healthier attitudes employee wellbeing with many businesses implementing wellbeing policies, as well as attitudes to what constitutes efficiency, with the most effective senior teams focusing on outputs, delivery and client service over hours spent at desks. Employers with this approach are likely to reap the benefits down the line, with the improved employee retention rates, business reputation, and, ultimately, productivity, that comes with a healthy, happy workforce.

Another interesting consideration is around employee engagement. Do staff feel valued or undervalued? Use the results from an anonymous survey to positivel understand the culture and level of engagement across your organisation. Problems can be averted before they become critical.

Taking a balanced approach.

High-profile cases of business leaders prioritising their mental and physical health normalises a balanced approach. Take António Horta-Osório, group chief executive of Lloyds Bank, who openly discusses his time away from the business to combat insomnia and stress – going a step towards diminishing the stigma attached to taking leave. Savvy business leaders should look to empower their workforce and follow Osório’s lead, discouraging presenteeism, alongside introducing flexible working strategies and wellbeing-focused policy, is crucial to preserving talented people assets.

The end of presenteeism may be in sight – not just for moral and social reasons, but because it makes sound business sense.

For more information, please contact Richard Love, Managing Director of Berwick Partners.

*This article first appeared in Birmingham Business.

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