Presenteeism – the lurking employee wellness problem

by Lucy Tallick, head of wellbeing

It’s a well known fact that sickness absence has huge financial implications on our businesses. The measurement of these absenteeism figures often form part of the KPI’s of our employee wellbeing strategies across the globe. We can understand why, as sickness absence is easy to monitor and report on making it a relatively simple measure of the return on investment of a wellbeing programme.

But it’s our more camouflaged counterpart that is deemed to be the biggest threat to workplace wellbeing: Presenteeism.

CIPD research into absence management via the Absence management report revealed that the annual cost of presenteeism is twice that of absenteeism with nearly one third of staff persistently turning up to work ill and with only 35% of employees generally healthy and present.

But the difficulty that we face as employers is that presenteeism is rather more difficult to identify than absenteeism. This is because presenteeism is the symptom rather than the cause and the actual causes can be hugely varied with some not physically obvious at all.

Presenteeism usually manifests itself from one of the following root causes:

  • Personal issues
  • Work issues
  • Physical health
  • Mental health

But identifying these root causes can be notoriously difficult in a working environment, so here are some key things to keep your eyes and ears open for in order to spot that one of your team may be in need of support:

  • They’re tired
  • They make more mistakes than usual
  • Lack of attention
  • Become unproductive
  • Reduction in care of results/outcomes
  • Less competitive
  • Arriving late for work/Leaving early

Here at Reward Gateway I’m reminded by this in a simple way every day, as one of our core values is ‘be human’.  It helps remind us that our employees are not robots, they will go through life with various ups and downs and it is just these ups and downs that will contribute to their personal ability to be present in the workplace.

Tackling presenteeism has to be a two-pronged approach.

First, it’s crucial to create an open, honest and supportive culture in your business. Be ready for the inevitable ups and downs and educate all your workforce to keep their eyes and ears open to the warning signs, ensuring you have the environment to be able to discuss, share and support with issues that may arise.

Next, you must arm your team with the personal tools to help them deal with these life challenges. Many causes of both presenteeism and absenteeism can be prevented by lifestyle changes including how we fuel our bodies through our diets and how we care for our bodies both physically and mentally. Encouraging, educating and supporting your team to make small lifestyle changes to their diets, physical activity and mental wellbeing can make significant improvements to their personal lifestyle.

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Giving them the personal strength to tackle emotional problems that occur, the capacity to deal with stress in a more organised manner and even prevent many forms of physical illness.

Identifying presenteeism, and supporting your employees to help maintain their morale and productivity is critical to improving your employee wellbeing.