Presenteeism is more than likely a word you’ve not heard of before. It’s probably also something you do without even knowing what it is…
Presenteeism is the act of showing up to work even when you have a justifiable reason to stay at home, like physical or mental illness. Perhaps you’re worried about job security and taking a much-needed day to recover feels out of the question, or you feel that your symptoms aren’t outwardly visible enough to justify taking a day off. Either way, showing up to work when you’re feeling under the weather isn’t just detrimental to your own health, but it can also impact the productivity of the company.
How many of you have gone to work with a splitting headache, to do the bare minimum, just so that you’ve shown up? Come on, own up, we’ve all ALL done it at some point! Whilst you might feel like you’re doing your bit by showing up, your company will be expecting the standard level of productivity from you, which is quite simply out of the question when you feel rubbish. You’ll only be able to give a small percentage of your full concentration, and you’re much more likely to make silly mistakes.
The fact of the matter is if you feel like you can’t take a day off when you need one (even if your symptoms aren’t visible to the untrained eye of your boss), or you feel like your job will be in jeopardy if you do, then we hate to break it to you… but that is a toxic environment! OK, taking days off in excess when you really could come into work is one thing, but if you’re really not feeling it and you know you’ll only be giving a fraction of what you usually do, then it is more than justifiable to take a day or two to reset and recover, despite how you think your boss will react.
Absenteeism vs presenteeism
Absenteeism is a term we’re pretty sure you’ll have heard before. But just in case… absenteeism is when an employee repeatedly doesn’t show up for work. It can negatively affect a company’s productivity and bottom line.
However, studies have suggested that presenteeism, largely under-investigated, actually costs a business a whopping ten times MORE than absenteeism! Woody Allen said that ‘80% of success in life can be attributed to simply showing up’. Whilst this is a lovely sentiment, in certain contexts, it’s a little optimistic and should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Showing up to work despite feeling a little sketchy does show a certain level of dedication and commitment to the company, and it keeps absentee levels down. However, the reality is that you won’t be firing on all cylinders and could end up costing the company more to fix minor errors or mishaps. When you clock in for work, your company will be expecting the same level of output and calibre of work as they usually get from you when you’re feeling in tip-top condition, and when you call in sick, they can budget and plan for a lower output.
Why does presenteeism occur?
Unsurprisingly, presenteeism is most apparent in high-stakes companies where working long hours is seen as the norm. However, it is at these workplaces that working under the weather can be the most detrimental when it’s important to be operating with a clear head and unimpaired judgement.
There are so many reasons for presenteeism, and none of them are healthy! Here are a few of the main reasons why you feel like you need to show up to work even when you know you need to be in bed:
- Over-work or tight deadlines
- Uncertainty around job security
- Understaffing issues
- Lack of paid sick leave
- Harassment or judgement for taking sick leave
If your boss or team perpetually makes you feel bad for taking time off when you need it, that’s not a good environment to be in. There are a lot of illnesses that have discreet or non-visible symptoms, and it’s not up to them to determine what is and isn’t deserving of a day off. Mental health conditions typically produce few outward symptoms and employees are less likely to openly discuss certain personal conditions like gastrointestinal disorders or menstrual symptoms, for example.
Either way, feeling like you have to go in to work even though you know you feel rubbish and won’t be able to produce the same output as usual. is unhealthy, unfair, and more likely to exacerbate any symptoms you’ve already got (which means more days off to get better…).
Consequences of presenteeism on health
We’ve briefly mentioned that forcing yourself to operate when you’re under the weather can only make you feel worse, it also can have a significant impact on your mental health. Particularly if you’re already battling with mental health conditions, feeling like you’ve got no choice but to go to work, will enhance whatever negative emotions you’re already dealing with. When you feel threatened, or you worry that your job is on the line, it can lead to feeling trapped and overwhelmed, and more likely to contribute to burnout. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup, so your productivity at work is only going to suffer as a result.
Feeling unheard or under-valued at work can lead to issues with Morale and loss of confidence in your company. Not only does it cost them a lot of money and time, but it will directly impact their employee satisfaction and staff turnover. So, presenteeism is just as detrimental for their company as it is for your health and wellbeing, so it should be in their best interests to look out for their employees!
How to tackle presenteeism
Now we know that managing presenteeism and prioritising the individual NOT the position is really the only option for an organisation, here are a few ways to get on top of presenteeism and start managing it better.
Rewrite the company narrative
This one is a little tricky if you’re lower down on the supply chain and typically needs to start with someone with influence. Change the perception that those who soldier on through an illness and come to work are revered and seen as dedicated. Feeling pressure to turn up when you’re not 100% can lead to feelings of resentment, negativity, and low morale, all which take its toll on one’s mental health.
Be aware of workload
High workload or very tight deadlines can force employees to come in when they’re not feeling well just to keep on track for deadlines or so that they can continue to work through their ever-growing mountain of work or in-tray. Keep an eye on how much work you’re taking on or being shouldered with and speak up if you think it’s too much. Alternatively, if you’re a line manager, keep track of what those underneath you are being asked to do and manage it accordingly.
Often those who are battling internal demons, like mental health conditions, are unable or don’t want to discuss or disclose their symptoms with people around them, and that is totally OK. There is very little, if any, training for leaders to recognise the signs of someone struggling with a silent illness. It’s important to look around and keep stock of your colleagues so you can pick up on subtle changes and accommodate them as necessary. Feeling heard and understood can really help someone open up and talk about what they’re dealing with, and discuss what they need to best support them AND get their work completed to the best of their ability.
Look at the company’s wellbeing programme
A lot of companies these days are offering a number of employee perks that stem beyond a paycheck every month. Now, companies are offering their employees paid gym memberships, health care, discounts at a variety of places like spas, and professional mental health support to name a few. This recent emphasis on employee lifestyle has arisen due to a worldwide desire to prioritise lifestyle and balance as well as a good salary. Take a look at what your company offers employees and see if there is anything you can make use of anything to help you feel better or take some more time for yourself.
Think about a change
If you really feel like you can’t take the time you need for yourself when you’re feeling poorly or you worry that doing so will affect your job status or land you with harassment, it’s most certainly a toxic environment and you should think about getting out. Being able to approach your leaders and request time off if you’re not well, without having to justify it and go into intense detail or be made to feel guilty for asking for the basic human right, then it isn’t the place for you. Companies like these are only expediting more mental and physical health conditions like burnout, stress, and anxiety, and will actively be increasing their issues with presenteeism instead. This isn’t your burden to bear, so be firm and take the time off to mend (and look elsewhere!).
If you need a little pick-me-up in the morning, why not download the Morale app? Powered by the theory of affirmation, send daily anonymous affirmations to those in your network every morning to give them a little mental health boost, along with your own. Statistically, those that support others around them are also happier and more productive in themselves, so you’ll be giving yourself a little boost at the same time! By supporting those around you at work, you’ll be doing your bit to foster a happier work culture, and remind your colleagues that you’re there to support them if they ever need to get something off their chest.
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