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Presenteeism and leaveism at the Workplace Wellbeing & Stress Forum 2015

When cracks appear in the façade of a brand it’s usually the people that work there that pay the price. If a brand is only skin deep it’s only a matter of time before the truth will break the surface. In the wake of some spectacular global brands and institutions taking a big fall it’s their values that get questioned; the values they were built on or the values that crept in. High standards and excellence cannot be sustained by long hours and fear of job security.

Two common causes of stress at work are management style and work volume. Since the credit crunch and subsequent recession, we probably all know someone who has been made redundant or has been affected by a failed business. There persists a tremendous pressure on employees from job security fears and increased demands on our income. Presenteeism and Leaveism are symptoms of these uncertain times and according to the CIPD these two behaviours are on the increase.

Presenteeism is the act of attending work while sick and the CIPD Simply Health Absence Management Survey 2015 has revealed an increase in this behaviour over the last 12 months. It also shows that presenteeism is more likely to have increased where a culture of working long hours is endemic and where operational demands take priority over employee well-being.

Leavism is a term coined by Doctoral Researcher Ian Hesketh at Lancaster University Management School to describe how employees use flexitime, annual leave, rest days and entitled leave to recuperate and get well rather than claim sick leave. Hesketh extends this definition to include situations where employees take their work home to complete because they could not get it finished during regular office hours.

Presenteeism and Leaveism may be displayed together with symptoms that include obsessiveness, workaholism, perfectionism, anxiety and depression. Presenteeism and Leaveism may permeate through every part of an employee’s career and have adverse effects on their private life. A career should never come before personal health, partners, children and friendships. Stability in all aspects of life is desirable and good role models, line managers and leaders are essential to promote a healthy work life balance.

How common is the problem?

Presenteeism is typically associated with anxiety about job security, but despite improvements in the economy, organisations report an annual increase in sick employees turning up for work. Over half of those organisations reporting an increase have not taken any actions to discourage this worrying trend.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper of Manchester Business School, co-author of ‘Leaveism and work-life integration: the thinning blue line’ said “the police are likely to be a bellwether for the entire public sector, as budget cuts squeeze staffing levels and employees experiencing insecurity try to manage ever-expanding workloads. We have now discovered that leaveism is endemic in the public sector.” At a CIPD Annual Conference he said “We’re getting a lot of that now as the public sector has been reduced by 20 or 30 per cent. It’s affecting the police, local government and central government.”

For stretched employees who will not admit they need help, access to work 24/7 via laptops and smart phone’s often hides the fact that they are working excessively. It’s the norm for a UK worker to clock up 40 to 50 hours a week on top of lengthy travel time, which will eventually become unsustainable, according to Professor Sir Cary Cooper.

What are the signs?

  • Receiving emails at the weekend, after working hours or during holidays.
  • Employees struggling to meet deadlines during the working day.
  • Employees requesting holiday leave at short notice and without explanation.

What is the cost?

  • Jonathan Houdmont, Assistant Professor of Occupational Health Psychology at the University of Nottingham warns of burnout and total emotional exhaustion. Houdmont reported that in a typical study of public service workers he expects approximately one-third of employees to score ‘above the threshold for high burnout’. In the police, this escalates to 70 percent in 2014.
  • Houdmont said, “there’s a growing body of literature from around the world that shows police officers who score highly for emotional exhaustion are more likely to be aggressive, show impaired performance and be involved in assaults.”

What can we do?

  • Examine the values that your organisation was founded upon and question whether these have been misinterpreted?
  • Look at your management team and ask are they good role models? Without buy-in from the top, directives will not have any real effect.

In a competitive market, employees will take great care in how they invest their time and career. Is your brand making its presence felt through ethos, culture and values? Are you offering something more than just a salary?

If you are interested in building an organisation driven by values please join me for the next Core Values Course at Symposium Training.

Now in its 2nd successful year!


Julia Hitchens is a Chartered Marketer with over 25 years experience in the Creative Industries working in Branding, Design and Marketing. She is Co-Author of three Teach Yourself guidebooks to branding; ‘Create The Perfect Brand’, ‘Successful Brand Management – In A Week’ and ‘Brand Management – In A Week’. Julia studied Business Studies at the University of Greenwich and she is a Mentor for their Career Mentoring Scheme. She began her career in marketing with campaigns for Samsung and Telewest and later worked on global brands including MG Rover and ICL.

Julia is a founding partner of Verve Brand Consultancy. Since 1996 she has helped hundreds of businesses to realise their brand’s potential through Consultancy, Seminars and Training Workshops. Julia has co-written and developed a series of Brand training workshops for Executive Education. These specialist courses include: Brand Identity, Brand Touchpoints, Core Values, Global Branding and Employer Branding.

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