Presenteeism in the workplace

This week, we take a look at presenteeism in the workplace and how this has shifted to the virtual workplace. Presenteeism is the act of coming into work and performing tasks when sick, reducing levels of productivity.

There are several motives behind presenteeism. For example, employees needing the money and not being able to afford to take time off work could lead them to come in even when sick. Additionally, employees enjoying and being passionate about their work could lead to presenteeism as well as an expectation of being present from higher management.

Other work issues could lead to mental health-related presenteeism such as

pressure, workload, a lack of support in the workplace and negative working relationships.

Presenteeism may differ depending on the company. For example, workers that deal with the welfare of others may feel a responsibility to avoid missing work unless absolutely necessary. This may be the case with health workers in the covid-19 pandemic. Similarly, workers of under-staffed organizations may feel a need to come into work when suffering from illness, mental or otherwise, as they don’t wish to burden colleagues that are already overworked.

Once again, this is especially true in the covid-19 pandemic of ‘helping’ fields such as job roles that involve the wellbeing of others (i.e. patients).

A study by Deloitte (2020) suggests that the cost of presenteeism is greater than that of absenteeism. Absenteeism refers to the practice of missing work (or school) for no ‘good’ reason. However, it is important to note that the interconnectedness of technology has allowed for remote work, leading to less absence when employees suffer from ill health.

According to Kinman and Grant (2020), evidence suggests that “working while unwell can delay rather than expedite recovery and increase the risk of future health problems and sickness absence”. Studies have also found that presenteeism can “impair productivity and result in errors, accidents and injuries to the employee, their co-workers and the public” Presenteeism in the workplace . This is a risk as organisations may have already reduced numbers of staff available or staggered hours during the covid-19 pandemic so may expect each present staff member to pull their weight, as such.

Deloitte put forward the newer idea of Leavism – which refers to the inability to switch off after work – as becoming an increasingly evident issue that affects workers’ mental health. This is due to the interconnectedness that advanced technology has brought to society. Technology has made it so workers are able to work from anywhere and can be reached at any time. The constant exposure to work-related inquiries and work-related notifications on one’s personal devices in their spare time could lead to burnout and mental ill health.

Similarly, Kinman and Grant look more specifically at presenteeism and leaveism – or lack thereof – during the pandemic. Remote workers have generally seen an increase in hours. Research by University of Essex and University of Chicago has shown “that total hours worked increased by roughly 30%, including an 18% rise in out of hours working”. This paired with digital monitoring and surveillance (e.g. screenshots whilst working or devices to check pages used during working hours) could be a reason why workers may be less fond of remote working.

Suggestions have been put forward on how to tackle mental stress caused by the workplace, and the stigma attached to it. Deloitte encourages the government to make improvements to the Equality Act and Statutory Sick Pay so as to lessen the stigma attached to mental health.

Kinman and Grant suggest remote workers or flexi-workers put boundaries into place to allow themselves time to dissociate themselves from work, helping them to avoid burnout. Reasonable and understandable boundaries will help workers to withdraw themselves when sick or during out of work hours. This can help keep a decent work-life balance whilst remote working.

To conclude, there are a number of reasons why workers may continue to working when suffering from ill health but it is up to the government to ensure satisfactory support is put into place when workers are unwell and stigma around mental health is lessened by treating and dealing with mental health in the same regard as other health issues.

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