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Presenteeism: A silent problem in the workplace

23 January 2023 4 min read

Presenteeism in the workplace

Presenteeism is a growing phenomenon in today’s work environment and is a term used with increasing frequency online, often closely linked to absenteeism.

It remains a large factor in organisations, and a study conducted by CIPD found that presenteeism is higher among those working from home (81%) compared with in the workplace (65%). The report also found that HR teams are taking steps to address this trend, with 52% of respondents saying they are investigating potential causes.

What exactly is presenteeism, and how can you recognise it in the workplace?

Presenteeism occurs when an employee frequently works when they are not at their most efficient or productive level. They may be present in the workplace completing their hours, but they are not getting as much work done as usual because they are struggling to focus.

Presenteeism in the workplace

This may be because they are unwell but choose to come into work anyway, or they are suffering from stress and fail to concentrate on the task at hand.

They may even struggle to ‘switch off’ at the end of the day or while on holiday, so they wind up doing work at unusual hours when they may be tired or distracted.

There are a few reasons that can drive presenteeism in the workplace, including:

  • Overwhelming workloads
  • Unrealistic or highly demanding employer expectations
  • A company culture that does not readily encourage or even discourages taking sick days
  • Understaffing
  • Job insecurity
  • Lack of paid sick days

Other signs of presenteeism may be seen in individuals who are highly driven and enjoy their work, considering themselves as able to take on a great deal – going above and beyond – so very little is going to stop them from coming into work if they can help it. This pattern of overworking can lead to stress and burnout, as the individual is not able to maintain the same level of pace and finds they are struggling to cope.

How can people managers combat presenteeism?

For people managers and HR teams, identifying presenteeism can be a challenge, but there are a few things to keep in mind when looking for signs.

  1. Have conversations

If you suspect someone in your team is showing signs of presenteeism, it may be worth having a conversation with them to see how they are managing in their role.

While as managers we may want to applaud those who are always present, always available even outside of working hours, and always eager to take on more work, it is worth considering how sustainable such behaviour is before it leads to feelings of stress and burnout.

A gentle reminder regarding healthy boundaries between work and personal life, and encouraging the individual to make sure they frequently use the annual leave they are entitled to, can help to ensure they are getting some well-deserved rest away from their job.

The same goes for someone who insists on attending work when they are ill – they may not be as productive as normal and in the long run, encouraging employees to take the time they need to fully recover will enable them to come back feeling fresh and rejuvenated.

Of course, managers and HR professionals themselves need to follow their own advice and take their rest and holiday – which will go a long way in promoting an overall healthy workplace culture where everyone feels able to take time away.

  1. Track annual leave and sickness leave

Employees that are displaying presenteeism will often neglect to make full use of their holiday entitlement regularly throughout the year. They may also avoid taking a sick day even they would be better off recovering at home.

Tracking annual leave and sickness leave gives managers much clearer visibility of their teams. Noticing, for example, that an employee hasn’t taken a day off in several weeks or even months, and hasn’t requested any for the near future, could be a sign that they are overworking and not letting themselves have a deserved rest.

Spotting this sort of pattern can lead to action being taken – a gentle reminder that the individual can and should book holiday.

  1. Set trigger alerts to monitor

Reviewing when and how often employees are taking annual leave can be tracked regularly by people managers and HR teams with an automated absence management solution like edays – and encouragement given to those who haven’t had a break for a while.

Triggers can also be set up to help notify people managers automatically if individuals haven’t requested any annual leave during a set period of time. Reminders can be sent to these individuals and conversations can be had if necessary, to encourage them to plan some time away.

Want an automated holiday booking system that gives unparalleled visibility and insight into your team’s absence and leave? Click here to book a demo with edays

Georgina at edays
January 23, 2023

Georgina Mackintosh is an accomplished copywriter and marketing professional with a background that spans several industries. Her writing focuses on HR topics such as employee wellbeing, engagement and experience - as well as absence management best practice, how-to guides and news from the HR sector.