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The Peril of Presenteeism

, September 4, 2014, 0 Comments

Presenteeism perils-Marketexpress-inYou are about to meet your boss for the quarter review. As you enter his cubicle, you encounter him with a running nose, watery eyes and sneezing and wheezing through sentences. Ugh… why is he even here? The thought just drowns in a record breaking sneeze and you already want to duck for cover, lest you catch an infection.

Welcome to the world of presenteedism at work, a state opposite to but as dangerous as absenteeism. Originally defined as “coming at work even when one is very sick”, today the word presenteeism encompasses myriad forms of “physically present but mentally absent “circumstances such as being distracted, disengaged, dissatisfied as well as discomforted physically or psychologically.

Presenteeism is definitely on a rise. According to the research conducted by Chartered Management Institute in 2012, presenteeism was up to 43% percent as against the 32% in 2007. Presenteeism may occur due to inadequate sick leaves, leaves saved for a rainy day or a vacation or a need to meet stiff work demands.

Imagine of an employee who is inching towards a performance appraisal, has been warned by HR once for being a laggard, has a high EMI to think about month on month and is suffering from a constant back ache which is screaming for attention from an Orthopaedic surgeon. Alas the doctor is available only between 11 am and 1 pm on week day.

Presenteeism may stem from tough economic conditions, job insecurities and a constant pressure to portray oneself as an ‘available talent’.

Organizations find it difficult to capture the degree to which presenteeism exists as compared to absenteeism which can be easily computed. Furthermore, a culture of “Absent is Appalling”and “Present is Productive”could also breed presenteeism in the organizations. A present employee is automatically assumed to be a productive employee. An employee attending office in spite of all health hurdles is in fact personified as a very loyal and engaged employee who should be rewarded for such heroism during appraisal.

However, presenteeism can cost the business a lot. Think about Raju who always gets a 100 % attendance award, no matter that he passes on flu to others. According to Statistics Canada the productivity loss stemming from presenteeism was 7.5 times greater than that from absenteeism. In case of certain chronic conditions the loss is estimated to be as high as 15 times. An employee falling a prey to presenteeism – is not only less productive but also a challenge to the wellness of others around. For example in 2009, 25 % of H1N1 infections could be traced to infected employees who spread the virus at work. Accidents at work, negligent handling of resources, erroneous decisions and interpersonal issues are some of the immediate fallouts of presenteeism.

So what can organizations do about presenteeism?

Presenteeism Policy

Organizations should state the policy on presenteeism loud and clear. While no organization minces words about the treatment of absenteeism as a disciplinary issue, very few organizations spell out their stand on presenteeism. Imagine the relief and confidence that you would gain when the employee manual clearly states that you would be sent back if found medically unfit to attend work. Wouldn’t you dare to rest at home than drag yourself for that report or half finished task which can wait or be delegated to someone while you gear up to spend the next day more productively with renewed energies? A clear guideline about this issue in the employee manual and a reiteration of the same in letter and spirit may greatly help employees to bring their healthy selves to work.Conducting an open discussion on the phenomena of presenteeism and seeking inputs from employees to curtail its occurrence can also set the ball rolling in the right direction.

Culture of Productivity

It was around 4.30 in the evening Rakesh asked Sudhir what he was doing, when Sudhir ruefully replied,” Waiting for the clock to show” Productivity is hardly a matter of completing the stipulated hours. Organizations should strive to create a culture that upholds Productivity and Performance over attendance. Presence is hardly a physical state in today’s technological work places. Even where there is a need to be physically present to deliver ones duties, the organisational culture should constantly link presence to productivity and not just filling up of time sheets.

Employee Assistance Programs

Link the goal of reducing presenteeism to Employee Engagement initiatives and provide robust Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs can also be a great way of endorsing organisation’s commitment towards employee wellness.

Employee Connect

Finally the best approach is to encourage HR to develop a personal connect with employees and identify cases where chronic illnesses may lead to presenteeism. A constant check and feel of employee think through satisfaction surveys, stay interviews can also assist HR to diagnose the degree and reasons for presenteeism in the organization.

To conclude individuals cannot by themselves find a solution for presenteeism. Organizations have to offer their wholehearted support and commitment to create working conditions that would deter people from engaging in this behaviour. In sum presenteeism could be silently ticking bomb which needs to be diffused well in time….before we run out of time.