Your organisation is undoubtedly concerned about rising rates of absenteeism, but has it considered the effect of presenteeism?
Almost 75% of people surveyed by CIPD in 2016, across all sectors and sizes of organisation, report that they have observed presenteeism – employees coming to work while unwell, rather than taking sick leave – with one in five reporting that more than half of all employees in their organisation work in spite of their ill health. CIPD’s findings suggest that presenteeism often results in stress-related absence and mental health problems, with organisations that focus on wellbeing and mental health being less likely to report increases in presenteeism.
It almost goes without saying, then, that organisations should widen their absence-related focus to include overall employee wellbeing to bring down those absence rates. Traditional absence policies that focus on discouraging time off in all circumstances appear to be having a negative effect on employees’ mental health and may actually be causing absence rates to increase.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of the four things you should be doing to combat presenteeism to foster a happier and healthier workplace:
1 – Give your employees time to recover from their illnesses
There’s nothing worse than coming in to an office during flu season and being surrounded by your coughing, sneezing and sniffling colleagues. Conversely, having to commute to the office to attend an important meeting or meet a deadline, when you really need to be tucked up in bed, is horrible and it only prolongs the lifespan of whatever bug or virus you happen to have caught.
The less time a sick employee has to recover from their illness, the longer they’re affected by it, which means there’s a greater chance of passing it on to their colleagues. Allowing people to come to work when they’re contagious can only have a negative effect on productivity and absence rates as, we’re sure everyone will agree, it’s nearly impossible to be productive when you’re unwell, especially when half of your colleagues are off sick with the same illness.
It’s important to implement and maintain a robust yet forgiving return-to-work process. Checking in with your employees on a regular basis will help you to ensure that they’re well enough before they come back into the office and, most importantly, that they won’t pass on whatever illness they had in the first place. That way, all your employees will hopefully return to work feeling well-rested and refreshed, and won’t have a negative impact on the rest of the office.
2 – Don’t guilt your employees into coming in to the office
The Office of National Statistics reported that, last year, UK workers recorded the lowest level of sickness since records began – but that doesn’t mean people are healthier, it means people are dragging themselves to work regardless of how they feel. Sick-day stigma is very real. A culture of long hours and unpaid overtime means that employees are encouraged not to stay off sick for too long (or at all), and some even feel guilty for taking time off, despite being perfectly within their rights to take it.
Allowing, or even encouraging, your employees to take time off when they feel unwell will have a positive effect on employee wellbeing, and will allow your employees to recover more quickly as their sick days will be spent resting rather than catching up on work or “making up for lost time”. Last year’s CIPD Absence Management Survey found that organisations with an increased rate of presenteeism were twice as likely to report an increase in mental health problems, and more than half of these organisations reported an increase in stress-related absence.
It’s very clear that absence rates rise when employees feel guilty about taking sick days so, if this is the case in your organisation, it’s important that you revise your absence policies sooner rather than later to escape their ill effects.
3 – Be consistent
Research has shown that low morale has a significant impact on employee productivity and, as low morale can contribute to the stress and mental health problems mentioned above, it follows that employee morale is integral to reducing both absenteeism and presenteeism. A happy employee is a productive employee, and is more likely to want to come into work as they enjoy their job, rather than feeling like they must make their daily trek just to make ends meet.
It’s important to keep morale in mind when enforcing your absence policies, as you don’t want to be seen to be favouring one employee or department over another, or being either too harsh or too lenient in certain situations. All employees in all areas of the organisation should be treated the same by your absence policies, regardless of their workloads, job function, or how frustrated their line manager happens to be on the day they receive an absence request.
Consider using cognitive technologies to remove the bulk of the decision-making process from your managers, who are prone to human error and bias, and instead automate those decisions based on the employee data that is already stored in your back-office system. At the very least, you need to encourage your managers and other senior staff to be fair and impartial, ensuring that all decisions regarding requests for leave are as impartial and objective as possible.
4 – Make employee wellbeing a priority
- musculoskeletal injuries (e.g. work-related neck strain, repetitive strain injuries, and back pain)
- home/family/carer responsibilities
- mental ill health
It’s vital that your organisation focuses on employee wellbeing to prevent not only the rising rates of presenteeism, but absenteeism as well.
There are a number of ways to achieve this, including providing employee benefits such as gym memberships, yoga classes, counselling, occupational therapy and healthy eating initiatives; allowing flexible working for those with family and care-related commitments; and encouraging employees to take guilt-free time off for their mental health, not just their physical health, when needed.
To manage all of these benefits, you might consider using intelligent HR software that deals with assigning benefits to eligible employees and providing an easy way to book holidays, absences and flexible working time. Mobile self-service apps are especially useful here, as they allow employees to book their time off or apply for a benefit without having to approach a manager or an HR representative. This not only saves time for all involved, but also provides employees with mental health issues, for example, with a degree of confidentiality that may encourage them to take part.
Regardless of how you decide to manage the implementation of these benefits, the most important thing is that they exist. The next time you review your absence policies, be sure to remember that organisations that invest in wellbeing are much less likely to report an increase in presenteeism, and you’ll be well on your way to success.
Feel free to leave a comment below or tweet us @erpaas if you’d like to discuss this article or if you have any other tips for decreasing presenteeism in the workplace.
Alternatively, if you’d like to find out more about how our Intelligent Platform can help you improve the implementation of your HR and absence policies, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on 01463 710816, or fill in our contact form and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.