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Present Yet Unaccounted For: The Problem of Presenteeism

Absenteeism has typically been a thorn in the side of many companies. However, there is a flip side to employees failing to show up to work: ‘presenteeism.’ This is when employees come in to work unwell or put in excessive overtime.

Now, you probably appreciate and respect workers who are team players and go the extra mile. But employees who come to work when they are not operating at full physical or mental capacity may make mistakes, cause accidents, create confusion, and ultimately hurt productivity. In other words, presenteeism can slowly and silently erode your bottom line unless you recognize and deal with it.

Address mental health

A common response to presenteeism is, “But we offer paid sick days.” Although paid sick days do generally help resolve incidences of a physical ailment or injury, they may not adequately address struggles with mental illness or extreme personal stress (such as a divorce or financial crisis). Some managers may raise an eyebrow at those taking a ‘mental health day,’ so sufferers end up coming in to work when they really may need the day off.

How can you help? If you sponsor a health care plan, it likely offers coverage for mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment. Be sure employees are aware of this. Also, reinforce with employees that you will honor the sick-day provisions spelled out in your employee manual for all types of ailments (physical, mental, and psychological). Train supervisors to support employees’ well-being and encourage those who need to take time off to do so if they need it.

Discourage excessive overtime

Another common cause of presenteeism is the perceived notion among many workers that they must work excessive overtime to prove themselves. Many companies still operate under an ‘old school’ culture that says putting in extra overtime will make the boss happy and lead to quicker raises and promotions.

Generally, many managers assume that, if an employee is absent, his or her productivity must be suffering. Conversely, if that same employee is putting in extra time and skipping vacations, he or she must be highly productive. But these assumptions are not always true — they must be supported by a thorough, objective, and analytical performance evaluation process.

You can prevent this type of presenteeism by strongly encouraging, if not strictly enforcing, vacation time. Communicate to employees your concerns about overworking and remind them to take advantage of the time off they have earned. (Doing so also can deter fraud).

Find the balance

Having a workforce full of dedicated, hard-working employees is a goal that every business should strive for. While, at the same time, work-life balance is a concept that benefits both employers and employees. Our firm can help you analyze the numbers related to productivity that can help you make optimal decisions regarding staffing and workflow.

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