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Presenteeism … refers to the incidence of workers wanting to deliver their best efforts, but their general productivity is greatly affected by health issues or personal problems … result[ing] in a drastic loss of productivity.
As we all know, the landscape of the workplace has shifted vastly in the last year and a half since the onset of Covid-19. We have all felt the uncertainty and stress of these times, and it is no surprise this stress can affect your work life considerably.
Not only have we faced isolation from family and friends, stress from being in close quarters with those in our household, and having children at home, but also change of work environment, lack of job-security amid economic instability, illness, and much more. The remote workforce has also been forced into a never-ending schedule of virtual meetings leading to zoom fatigue and many other related stresses.
All of these factors contribute significantly to a mind-boggling rise in depression among the workforce across the world. According to a recent study, depression symptoms have increased in prevalence by more than 300% among adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the Good Work Index shows startling statistics among the workforce. Since the onset of the pandemic, 45% of workers indicate their general mental health has declined and that number rises to 56% of those with an existing mental health issue. Financial security decreased by 39%, and 30% of workers say their ability to work has been impacted by responsibilities of care.
Presenteeism has always been a problem in the modern workplace but this term takes on new significance in light of the pandemic. The term refers to the incidence of workers wanting to deliver their best efforts but their general productivity is greatly affected by health issues or personal problems. These stressors, whether mental, emotional, or physical, disrupt an employee’s ability to focus, increase fatigue, and result in a drastic loss of productivity.
Many companies have not made a seamless transition to a remote workforce and have still pushed work attendance, perhaps even more so despite the compounding stress of the pandemic.
What most companies don’t consider is that productivity loss as a result of presenteeism is three times greater than losses caused by absenteeism and costs US businesses almost 230 billion dollars each year – and this is based on pre-pandemic numbers!
With the rise of remote work, employees face increased pressure to work when ill, work a greater number of hours, and respond to emails and messages all hours of the day and night because of a lack of work/life balance. What most companies don’t consider is that productivity loss as a result of presenteeism is three times greater than losses caused by absenteeism and costs US businesses almost 230 billion dollars each year (and this is based on pre-pandemic numbers!).
Remote presenteeism is largely driven by job insecurity, poor management, and a stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace, despite evidence showing a distinct link between presenteeism and mental illness, and in particular, depression.
In a recent study published by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, workers with depression were far more likely to struggle with time management, mental functioning, and interpersonal communication, and had lower work output overall. In another notable study with a large sample population of 6,000 employees across multiple companies, it was discovered that workers with depressive symptoms were seven times more likely to experience decreased effectiveness than workers with good mental health.
Predictors of Presenteeism
Several factors contribute to employees shying away from taking time off and increase the likelihood of presenteeism in your workplace.
- Subtle cues within company culture can dissuade people from taking time off in your company. Do managers still show up to work even when they’re sick? If time is taken off for a personal day, is a guilt trip laid on the employee upon return to the office? Factors such as these all contribute to an employee thinking twice before calling in sick.
- Job insecurity due to company downsizing or restructuring also leads to presenteeism. The worry of keeping a job leads to an employee trying to tough it out even when they should take a personal day.
- Lower paying hourly jobs or part-time jobs lead to more presenteeism as well. Workers with lower income generally have a harder time making ends meet and make every effort to show up to work under any circumstances because of fear of missing out on part of their paycheck.
- Being a parent also can lead to presenteeism. With an increase in dual-income homes, it means more parents are working outside the home, leaving no one available to care for sick children on occasion. As such, parents tend to conserve their own sick days for their children’s illness days instead, which means they frequently tough it out at work when they become sick.
Introducing flex time, providing efficient healthcare, paid sick leave, and emphasizing the importance of employee’s physical and mental health can drastically reduce presenteeism.
One aspect of efficient care for employees can be through telemedicine. With the ability to consult a medical doctor for basic illnesses without having to take the time to seek out care in a physical setting, it saves the employee valuable time, money, and stress. Telehealth including behavioral and mental health therapy can also treat important conditions such as depression and anxiety effectively and lead to a reduction in an employee’s presenteeism.
While there are a great many monetary considerations for the reduction of presenteeism in your workforce, it is also extremely important to take into consideration the individual employee’s wellbeing and destigmatize taking time off in your company culture. Happier, healthier employees lead to greater job satisfaction, productivity, and a long-lasting work force.