Presenteeism: the virtually absent worker

<p>Florence Parot describes the rising and often under-appreciated cost of presenteeism and its wide-reaching impact.</p>

Presenteeism is being present at work when stressed or ill or being present at work for more hours than is required.  The word is now better known but not necessarily taken into account as a serious problem. Figures usually focus on absenteeism, and current trends show that although sickness absence is falling, this could because of a rise in presenteeism, not a higher number of healthy employees.

As we have seen in a previous blog, studies show that working more than 40 hours a week actually decreases productivity and if you keep doing it for more than three or four weeks, your productivity then turns negative.  I think we can all figure out by ourselves how that is going to be even worse if working when sick! 

European Occupational Safety and Health at Work estimate that presenteeism cost 1.5 times more than absenteeism and represents a loss in productivity of 33%. Yes, Sitting at your desk from 9 am to 5 pm (or more!) does not mean you are productive. You could just be staring at your screen with your brain in complete fog!  Of worse, trying to get things done with that same brain fog and ending up having to re-do it all or having someone else pick up the pieces of a complete disaster.  We are actually more efficient when we are focused and we set up specific time to do something. So just thinking you can stay in late to finish that last task is not necessarily going to equal better results.

With reasons like having too much work, not being paid while being absent, feeling guilty and that it is frowned upon in the organisation, employees end up being more worried about being present than about infecting co-workers and spreading their germs to the whole department. When it is shown that presenteeism can prolong illness, spread diseases and cause stress in the workplace, this is definitely a bad move for the company.

So what is to be done? Some companies have successful implemented strategies that have proved very efficient:

  • Making your company policy on sickness absence clear, and communicating the different options available to staff should they become unwell for an extended period of time.
  • Being generally more flexible, allowing work from home (less time wasted on transport), flexible hours, part-time…
  • Concentrating on output rather than input, sometimes referred to as the Results Only Work Environment: focusing on the job done, not how it is done, measuring results, not hours. In his TED talk on the subject of motivation, Dan Pink explains: “In a ROWE people don’t have schedules. They show up when they want. They don’t have to be in the office at a certain time, or any time. They just have to get their work done. How they do it, when they do it, where they do it, is totally up to them … What happens? Almost across the board, productivity goes up, worker engagement goes up, worker satisfaction goes up…”
  • Giving staff unlimited unrecorded time off while giving incentives on results and productivity, not time spent in the office. Like the French company Chronoflex where each employee is paid a bonus on their own performance and the company’s performance, while being free to get organised as they like.  After implementing the policy last year, the company’s turnover has shot up 15% and they have started hiring again.

About Florence Parot

Enlightened Strategies for Peak Performance

Florence is an international expert in Stress and Sleep management, a Performance Coach and Sophrology* Practitioner.

She works with executives who need to perform at a high level and face pressures and challenges on an everyday basis. She teaches them practical tools and strategies to be at their best when they need it most, know how to “switch off” and “on” at will, remain in control, have energy, focus, a clear head and build resilience. With methods similar to those used by Olympians, she helps her clients develop the brain power of a corporate athlete: their mind at its best!

Florence worked in high-performance environments within Strategy Consulting and International Logistics before training as a Sophrology Practitioner and a Coach. She has been running her own business for 8 years. In 2010, Florence opened the first Sophrology training centre in the UK, The Sophrology Academy, recognised in 2013 as a centre of excellence by the profession.

Florence is a member of the Editorial Committee of the French magazine “Sophrologie, Pratiques et Perspectives” and blogs regularly for the Huffington Post and Psychologies Magazine’s Life Labs. She published her first book: Instant Serenity for Life and Work: An Introduction to Sophrology in 2012 and wrote as the burnout expert for Guide de Sophrologie Appliquée, a book directed at Sophrology professionals in France in 2014.

* Sophrology is a very modern and flexible form of mindfulness used in companies, schools and hospitals on the continent for 50+ years to achieve an alert mind in a relaxed body.

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