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Presenteeism: addressing a hidden workplace cost

Overworked, depressed and exhausted office workers at his desk surrounded by a pile of work

You’ve probably heard the saying ‘the lights were on but no one was home’: well that can be the case in workplaces when staff are present physically but their minds aren’t on the job.

It’s been dubbed presenteeism – and according to research and articles I’ve read, it’s a bigger problem to business bottom-lines internationally than absenteeism. A 10-year-old Medibank Private report put it four times the cost, and we’re talking tens of billions of dollars in lost productivity.

Presenteeism may manifest in a staff  member who shows up for duties yet is unwell – perhaps suffering a killer headache from an allergy-related headache, or  having a painful day with the arthritis or dicky back or a host of illnesses,  yet feels compelled to ‘soldier on’.

It may be because of a domestic row the night before that left the worker sleepless and emotionally elsewhere.

It may because of depression or anxiety.

Studies show that presenteeism is more likely to occur when there’s job insecurity, limited job opportunities and no access to paid sick leave.

Fear of the backlog of work responsibilities, missing deadlines and burdening co-workers can also add to presenteeism.

The presence of presenteeism can suggest something about your organisation. Yes, employers need to encourage diligence in workers but at what price?

An office culture that actively encourages workers to take good care of themselves and each other, that shows trust in staff by providing (where and when appropriate)  greater freedoms such as flexible working hours or opportunities to work from home and engages staff through a comprehensive corporate wellness program is on the right track to resolving presenteeism.

By including stress management and mental wellness components in your corporate wellness program – such as laughter yoga sessions in the workplace – you can address some of the major causes of presenteeism proactively and cost-effectively.

And that can make for a more productive, healthier and happier workplace.

(c) Heather Joy Campbell 2016