Presenteeism – is this an issue in your organization?

CARPE employees
Image via Wikipedia

Managing absenteeism has been a popular trend in HR.  Issues related to employees not being available to perform their duties are obvious.  Constantly absent employees can’t contribute in the same ways that other employees do; but it is also not true that  employees who report to work all perform equally.

Organizations are more frequently complaining about ‘Presenteeism’ – the concept of showing up for work every day no matter if you are sick.  Employees who subscribe to this concept tend to be baby boomers (the demographic who learned to define work performance in terms of visibility in the office), those terrified of losing their job (a view often reinforced by employers), and those suffering from ‘workoholism’.

On the surface you may think that it is a good thing to have employees report to work no matter what, but in fact the opposite is true.  Creating a culture where employees feel the need or one that reinforces an employee’s belief in the need to report to work no matter what can be very costly to an organization.  Here are some examples of the negative impacts:

  • employees who report to work when ill share their germs with others; you now have several employees who are sick;
  • sick employees who report to work take longer to recover so as a result they perform at a lower level for several days instead of taking a day or two to recover and return sooner at 100%;
  • you create a culture where it is more acceptable to come to work and not be productive than it is to take a day off; as a result the trend of taking a ‘working rest’ will become more prevalent and more frequent; employees will rationalize that they deserve the rest of taking a day or two of breaks and non-productive tasks

The last point is the most dangerous.  This mentality in the workplace most often leads to an increase of solitaire games and other ‘expletive-ing the dog’ type activities.  Employees learn the behaviour that so long as you are present in the workplace the employer is happy.  Is this a culture you want to create?

If you answered no, here are some great strategies that can help:

  1. Inform employees about their sick leave benefits and encourage them to use them.
  2. If an employee reports to work ill, send them home.
  3. Reassess your policies around missed hours and pay.
  4. Never threaten an employee’s employment over illness or absence.  Any action that may need to be taken is after accommodation and, if required, a long history of progressive discipline. No one should feel that he or she will lose their job for calling in sick for a day.
  5. Recognize performance over hours worked.  Results matter.
  6. Walk the walk.  All the policies and practices will go out the window if the boss comes in when under the weather.

Creating a healthy workplace will create efficiencies, inspire employees to work harder, and save money.  What’s your excuse for maintaining unhealthy and outdated practices?  How can you overcome these?


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