Managing the Usual Suspects – tackling presenteeism

Learning to deal with the usual suspects will go a long way to solving any absence problem and here’s a starting point to getting it right.

Tackling presenteeism

Two of our Usual Suspects, Butch Presentee and Sleeps-with-Smartphone, share the same problem: inability to draw a line between work and sickness, now commonly known as presenteeism. There is an unhealthy trend that suggests more and more employees feel the obligation to work whilst ill. Whether by turning up at work unwell or continuing to work from home. The ill employees in the workplace are unproductive, they lower the morale and spread germs. Working from home whilst ill prolongs the illness because you’re not properly resting. It can also add to uncertainty among colleagues who don’t know if they should be stepping in to help with the workload or not.

Cost of presenteeism

The cost of presenteeism is difficult to measure, especially because much of the cost is indirect. The Centre of Mental Health has calculated that presenteeism due to mental ill health costs the UK economy £15.1 billion per year. This is a staggering figure and excludes all other types of illnesses. Other research has suggested that presenteeism costs up to £650 per employee per year in lost productivity and there are signs of this cost rising year on year.

The key is in the company culture

No matter if dealing with a Butch Presentee or a Sleeps-with-Smartphone, the same message should apply: if unwell, take the time to recover and come back to work when you’re fit to focus and contribute as a productive member of the team. This message needs to come from management. There should be clear buy-in from the senior level down. This should portray that working ill isn’t the same as being a star employee. Don’t pressure ill employees to work whilst unfit. Instead, focus on ways to prevent illness before it occurs. There are lots of ways to do this including infection control (disinfectant hand wash). Other methods range from flu vaccinations to stress training and fitness promotions to help employees get fitter.

Presenteeism is often a hidden problem but if line-managers are properly trained they can spot signs of presenteeism. Colleagues should also be encouraged to let managers know if they are concerned about one another’s well-being.