UK employees are now taking half the amount of sick days they did in 1993, but this doesn’t mean that sickness is at an all-time low
CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Robert Half
Presenteeism at work is estimated to cost the UK economy £15.1bln every year, with potentially harmful effects to business progress, especially at a time when UK businesses are searching for ways to increase productivity at work.
What is ‘presenteeism’?
Gary Johns (2010) says that ‘the most recent scholarly conception of presenteeism involves showing up for work when one is ill.’
Presenteeism is the opposite of ‘absenteeism’ – regular unplanned absences from work – and can be due to a number of factors; company culture, a stressful workload, or the attitude and expectations of a senior manager can all contribute to a presenteeism culture. Employees who are feeling insecure in their roles, and concerned about not wanting absenteeism to be reflected on their staff record, can also be a key contributor.
Presenteeism vs productivity
Professor Sir Gary Cooper, of Manchester University, has proclaimed presenteeism to be a bigger threat than absenteeism for UK businesses where workplace productivity is concerned, costing the UK economy twice as much. There are several reasons for this.
Other employees may become ill
The only thing worse than being ‘a man down’ is being an entire team down! When you encourage a sick employee to be present in the workplace, you run the very real risk of infecting the rest of your team with the same illness. A team of sick employees is sure to derail any efforts to increase productivity at work.
Employee recovery is hindered
One of the best ways to recover from illness is to allow the body and mind time to rest. The effort needed to commute to the office, and focus on work-related tasks, can slow down the recovery process, causing even longer delays to productivity efforts.
Employee output is decreased
When an employee is ill at work their focus and mental capacity is diminished. You may think you’re pushing a project forward by encouraging a sick employee to come in, but you may be likely to do more harm than good.
Presenteeism at work: solutions for improving workplace productivity
Here are some of the ways in which you can increase productivity at work by counteracting the culture of presenteeism.
Lead by example
According to CIPD’s 2018 Health and Well-Being at Work survey, only a quarter (25%) of survey respondents who had witnessed high levels of presenteeism at work had seen their organisation take steps to remedy it.
One of the most impactful ways of improving workplace productivity is to encourage a culture that values the health and wellbeing of employees over profits or deadlines. Matt Weston, MD of Robert Half UK, says, “Education is critical. Ensuring every employee knows the company leave policy, and debunking any perceptions that leave shouldn’t be taken, is a good place to start.”
As a leader, set an example by taking sick days yourself and encouraging your team to go home and rest if they appear ill; they take their lead from you, so let them know it’s okay.
Identify the causes of work-related stress or sickness
Our research shows that over half (56%) of employers see an increase in presenteeism during times of stress. Workplace productivity can be boosted by attempting to understand the causes of stress and tackling them with additional support for employees.
One of the most popular ways to improve workplace productivity is to establish a workplace wellbeing programme. Research for our 2020 Salary Guide shows that 39% of UK employers planned to use wellbeing programmes as a method of attracting and retaining talent.
So, although it may seem counter-intuitive to encourage employees to stay at home to increase productivity, a culture of presenteeism in the workplace is likely to be more damaging.