Preventing Presenteeism

Most employers have a keen eye on absenteeism, but what about presenteeism? On the job time-wasting, when employees come to work and under-perform, can happen for a multitude of reasons. Whether caused by fatigue, illness, or low levels of engagement and motivation, lost productivity in the form of presenteeism is a huge cost to employers. But presenteeism can be a challenge to recognize, and even harder to manage.

The signs of presenteeism can be difficult to spot, but some of the symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Making uncharacteristic mistakes or delivering a lower standard of work.
  • Reduced productivity, missing deadlines, or decreased interest in outcomes.
  • Arriving late, leaving early or working long hours to catch up on a normal workload.
  • Seeming tired, sick or simply “down”.

While at times going the performance management route will be a necessary consequence of persistent presenteeism, as with many people management challenges, a proactive solution to reduce presenteeism is preferable to a reactive one! With that “ounce of prevention” stance in mind, here are 4 strategies to help prevent (and treat) presenteeism in your workforce:

“A proactive solution to reduce presenteeism is preferable to a reactive one.”

Revisit your Time Off policies. It’s possible that your policies are encouraging people not to take time off when they need it, whether to promote mental wellness or to recover from the flu. Review your policies to make sure that employees are provided with the right kind of leave to manage their work and life needs.

For more details on the pros and cons of PTO vs. Sick Time policies, Click Here.

Walk the talk. While your policy might tick all the right boxes, maybe it’s actually your practice that needs work! Walk the talk from the top down – make sure leaders and managers are modeling engagement and aren’t exhibiting signs of presenteeism themselves. It is also a good practice for managers to let employees know, in a support manner, that it’s okay to take a breather if they can’t bring their best selves to work.

Get creative with alternative work arrangements. Presenteeism can happen when team members are afraid to take time off when needed because they might fall behind or are juggling the added stress of work and caregiving responsibilities. Flexible work hours and telecommuting options are swiftly becoming the norm and can help reduce employee stress and support better work-life integration.

Promote overall employee wellbeing and mental health. Most employers offer extended health benefits, and many also offer EFAP programs. Benefits can be a great tool to help reduce presenteeism by supporting overall wellness, but the benefits you offer are only valuable if employees know about them! Communicate with employees consistently about the benefits available to them and how to access them. Go the extra mile by implementing a formal wellness plan – studies have shown the return on investment of wellness plans is a solid one!

Focus on results rather than time spent. Let’s be honest: in many workplaces, it’s the results that matter, not the length of time a person sat at their desk to do the work. But many organizations continue to use outdated absenteeism measures as an indicator of success, honing in on time spent at work rather than focusing on the results and behaviours driving business success. Incentivize the right behaviour and discourage presenteeism by loosening the reigns and focusing on the results that matter.

While it won’t make sense for every organization, more and more employers are following the lead of big tech organizations that allow unlimited vacation, don’t specify hours of work, and focus on the results that matter to increase employee engagement, promote meaningful work, and decrease presenteeism.

Your Engaged Assignment: Presenteeism is something that many organizations struggle with. While a certain amount of productivity ebb and flow can be normal, when you’re identifying patterns of time-wasting and lowered motivation, it’s time to take action.

Review the list above to identify strategies you could be leveraging to prevent and address presenteeism and commit to following through on one this week!

If presenteeism is a pervasive challenge for your organization and more drastic steps are required to address it, we’re always happy to share our two cents, so don’t hesitate to drop us a line!