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Three ways to tackle the problem of presenteeism

Jul 28, 2017
Rebecca Kelly, Director of Glandore, explains how workplaces can battle the problem of presenteeism – employees soldiering into work when they should really be recovering.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism has been defined as people going to work when sick and not operating to their usual level of productivity. We’ve all been there, feeling poorly and unwell but coming into work regardless. We sit at our desks and only get half the amount of work done that we would have gotten through on a normal day. This is ‘presenteeism’ and it’s becoming more and more common for companies.

Why is it an issue?

Presenteeism is an issue as it promotes a workplace culture that believes work is more important than employees’ wellbeing. Research has found that presenteeism can cut productivity by one-third or even more. Working while unwell will always affect both the quantity and the quality of your work. At Glandore, we believe it’s very simple: a workplace that is well, works well.

Is it a major bugbear for employees?

Some employees may simply feel obligated to turn up for work or perhaps they have run out of sick days and can’t take another day off. Others may be highly driven and feel guilty about, perhaps, letting the team down by not going into work. This leads to employees with a number of ailments still showing up for work when we know they should stay at home and recover.

How do companies in other countries approach the issue? 

We have hosted international companies from many industries – Facebook, Twitter, Eaton Corporation and EY, for example – and have seen a variety of company cultures and ways to approach presenteeism. Some have implemented specific workplace policies as well as informing and educating their teams. Others have provided employees with workplace flexibility. Whether it be working flexi-hours or the ability to get your lunch time workout in, providing flexibility can help those struggling to manage a healthy work-life balance. In any country or culture, the promotion of health and wellbeing leads to a more productive workplace.

What should employers do about it?

Employers need to create and encourage a workplace culture that puts an emphasis on the health and wellbeing of its staff. This must be done from the top down with managers leading by example. At Glandore, we have a culture of caring for the members and staff working within our flexible office spaces. We have created a working environment that encourages collaboration, innovation and healthy living through our Glandore Wellness Programme, leading to an enjoyable employee experience for both staff and members.
Here are our top three tips on how employers can reduce presenteeism:

1. Recognise the problem

In some companies, employees who come to work when unwell are viewed as dedicated and held in high esteem as they soldier through. If you spot this happening in your company, recognising that there is an issue is the first step. By doing this, an employee can return to work refreshed and healthy, ready to tackle their work.

2. Recognise causes and symptoms

High workloads, mental pressures and multiple work demands can cause employees to avoid taking time off when they really need it. They can feel guilt or fear that if they take time off, they won’t meet their deadlines and are putting pressure on co-workers to pick up the slack. It’s important for managers or colleagues to recognise these signs and offer help when needed.  

3. Examine your company’s wellbeing programme

You need to ask yourself if your company’s policy takes into consideration the stresses your employees may be dealing with, both in and outside of work. Make sure your policy takes social, physical, mental and financial stresses into consideration and offers appropriate support, and flexibility where possible. This will go a long way in reducing presenteeism in the workplace.
Rebecca Kelly is Director of Glandore, an Irish family-run business and leading provider of flexible workspace in Ireland.