For quite some time now, it has been well recognized how bad absenteeism has been for a company’s productivity. And rightly so, many companies have come up with strategies to deal with the ill-effect of absenteeism. On the other hand, presenteeism is relatively a new phenomenon to be recognized, and therefore it is often overlooked. Unlike absenteeism, presenteeism is very challenging to identify making it even more difficult to tackle.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism is a situation where an employee goes to work even when suffering from an injury or an illness. The illness can be either physical or psychological in nature.

Presenteeism Cortisol Stress Management Burnout

To put it in simple words, the no-so-commonly used word “presentee” represents “someone who is present”. In the earlier days, the concept of presenteeism was not used in a negative context, and presenteeism was simply viewed as a concept where the employees showed up to work as expected. However, since the 1980s the negative side of presenteeism has come into recognition. The definition of presenteeism has changed from “simply showing up to work” to “showing up to work but not working to their full ability”. This is counterproductive from a company’s point of view as the employees, even though physically present, are mentally disengaged.

As opposed to absenteeism, presenteeism is significantly underreported. Absenteeism is a situation when the employee does not turn up for work when he/she is expected to. Absenteeism is, often, habitual in nature without any strong reasons. This makes it very easy to identify the issues related to absenteeism since the absence of an employee is easily noticeable and has a direct effect on the company’s productivity.

What causes presenteeism?

As Will Kenton describes, there could be several reasons or even a combination of several reasons as to why an employee engages in presenteeism. The potential reasons include fear of losing the job, inadequate days of sick leave, a shortage of staff, lowering prospects of growth in the company, increased workload, and even loyalty to the organization.

In an article published in cnbc.com, the employees in the UK are two times more likely to take sick days as compared to the employees in the USA. One of the potential reasons for such a start difference could be the disparity in the number of paid sick days. According to another article published in cnbc.com, around 38 percent or 40 million employees in the USA do not have paid sick leave.

Apart from the reasons mentioned above, the common workplace culture of staying late at work and doing overtime to be more ‘visible’ is a significant contributor to presenteeism. According to one study published in inc.com, on average, the employees in the USA spend 23 hours per month more than it is required just to be noticed. In the case of employees from the UAE, the employees spend 24 hours per month to stay more ‘visible’. One of the most probable reasons for people staying back a little longer is not they want to but rather that they have to. This is counterproductive for the company.

Impact of presenteeism

It is quite obvious that presenteeism lowers employees’ productivity. Should the employer be worried about it? The answer is YES. Employees’ presenteeism costs the employer a lot of money. One may think that the company’s productivity is high as all the employees are turning up for work. Nothing could be further from the truth. Employees suffering from presenteeism are prone to make mistakes at work. Employees suffering from flu can easily infect the other employees and bring down the productivity of the entire company.

There are numerous studies highlighting the financial impact of presenteeism. According to a 2017 study conducted by Deloitte, presenteeism costs the UK anywhere between £17-26 billion a year. According to a study published in EHS Today, the financial impact of presenteeism is at least 10 times higher than that of absenteeism. It is beyond doubt that presenteeism is a big problem that can not be ignored.

Presenteeism & Burnout

When it comes to workplace productivity, ‘burnout’ is the “elephant in the room” which needs very little introduction. In brief, burnout leads to emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and awareness of reduced personal achievement.

Presenteeism results in the accumulation of tasks at work triggering emotional exhaustion, and a decrease in energy and focus to finish the tasks. This is a vicious cycle. If efforts are not made to break this vicious cycle, the employees continue to engage in presenteeism which quickly escalates to a situation where the employee feels completely burnt out.

Watch out for the signs of presenteeism

One of the best ways to avoid burnout is to identify the signs of presenteeism. The management needs to address the reasons for presenteeism to tackle employee burnout. The signs of presenteeism include a situation where the employee is making more mistakes than usual, producing substandard results at work, decreased productivity, loss of enthusiasm for the results, working while not fit for work, and always tired.

It is in the interest of the company to look out for the signs of presenteeism and take immediate action to avoid burnout of the employees. Changes to the organization’s work culture favoring the mental well-being of the employees can be extremely effective. Periodical career development can greatly enhance employee engagement at work. Allowing employees to figure out their own ways of doing jobs can be very beneficial for companies. Also, the management needs to be sympathetic towards their employees, especially when there is an increased workload. 

Good workplace culture avoids employee presenteeism

In conclusion, presenteeism is a serious problem that should not be overlooked. To avoid presenteeism, a company should make serious efforts in identifying and removing the policies of the company that promotes presenteeism. Read more about how presenteeism affects productivity and creativity here.

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Do you congratulate yourself for surviving to work regardless of a migraine that was hammering in the back of your head? Do you feel proud of not taking sick leave and working hard, no matter what? Well, you shouldn’t. Going to work despite an illness is quite likely to cost your employer more than sick leave.