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Here is How Employers Can Check Presenteeism in the Workplace


There is no doubt that frequent, unplanned staff absences without cause – or absenteeism is bad for your business. But what most employers often don’t realize is that its opposite – presenteeism – is also just as harmful for your bottom line.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism is when your staff is always present at work even when they are sick or beyond their contracted hours.

Other examples of such behaviour include, working on the weekends, being available on vacation, replying to work emails late into the night, etc.

But how is it bad for my business?

Overwork will eventually cause your employees to feel mentally and physically exhausted. In the long-term, it may cause your staff to feel stressed and anxious, and lower their productivity.

Also, when sick employees show up to work, they may infect others in the workplace.

Presenteeism is never a desirable trait. Rather it is symptomatic of an underlying problem – poor time management or job insecurity or an unfair division of work. It is not a practice you should encourage in your workplace.

Besides affecting employee health, it also brings down the quality of your customer service.

A tired or overworked employee may be prone to more mistakes. Or they could be irritable or stressed leading to a negative work environment.

Presenteeism, especially if unchecked or rewarded, could pressure other employees to also put in long hours to show their commitment to the job. This may cause resentment among your staff and create an unhealthy work culture.

Presenteeism and remote work

Remote work creates a greater possibility of employees falling prey to presenteeism. Everybody may not be suited for a work-from-home arrangement. When home is also the office, some people may find it difficult to separate the two.

A virtual workplace also makes it harder for employers to be able to spot when an employee is sick or working long hours. Your employees may be showing up for work while struggling with a mental health issue or COVID-19 symptoms.

What causes presenteeism?

There could be several reasons for presenteeism in the workplace.

Your employees may be worried about losing their jobs

The economy and the job market have been hard-hit by the pandemic. Businesses have been forced to downsize and lay off employees since the crisis began.

Job insecurity may be the reason causing staff to prove their dedication by working beyond their required work hours.

You are short-staffed

Due to the above-mentioned layoffs, a few employees may be forced to handle the workload previously being managed by an entire department.

No paid sick leave

The absence of paid sick leave may also be causing unwell employees to push themselves to work to avoid losing wages.

Poor staff management

Unrealistic deadlines or workloads could also be a factor driving employees to overwork.

It’s not you, it’s them

In some cases, presenteeism is also caused by a personality type. Workaholics often find it hard to keep a work-life balance. By doing so, they put their physical and mental health at risk.

What are the signs to watch out for?

Some common signs indicative of presenteeism include:

  • Decrease in productivity
  • Low-quality work
  • Skipping lunch breaks
  • Turning up for work when sick
  • Making frequent errors
  • Working overtime
  • Looking tired/irritable
How can I check presenteeism at work?

We recommend the following measures:

Train managers to spot signs

Ensure your managers are trained on spotting the issue and on sensitively engaging with employees who may be struggling. It is important for you to understand the reason behind presenteeism to be able to help your employee.

If you have staff who may be struggling with mental health, connect them to available resources, such as your company’s Employee Assistance Program.

Check in with staff regularly

Daily or weekly team catch-ups will help you notice if an employee is overexerting themself or struggling with their workload. If you see that an employee is sick, you can ask them to leave for the day and get some rest.

Staying connected with your team is especially important at present when majority of us are working remotely. You could organize virtual socials or hold weekly one-on-one meetings with your employees to see how they are doing workwise and personally.

Be realistic about the workload

You need to set down deadlines to ensure accountability and productivity in your workplace. But make sure those goals are achievable. If you’ve laid off staff recently due to financial reasons, make sure you support the rest whose workload may have increased.

Build a healthy work culture

Encourage your employees to strive for a work-life balance. Start a conversation about the importance of mental health and self-care in your workplace.

Providing staff with opportunities to upskill and grow will help reduce feelings of job insecurity.

Make it clear that working long hours or sacrificing personal time for work frequently is not appreciated. Encourage your employees to manage their time better and finish their work during work hours.

Seek regular feedback from your team. Anonymous staff surveys are a good way to do so.

Offer paid sick leave, if possible

Offering your employees paid sick leave will ensure that they do not show up to work when sick. Not having to worry about losing pay will give your staff the peace of mind to recover properly at home before returning to work.

Need support navigating business issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our experts can help you develop company policies as well as with any other HR, health and safety, or employment advice you may need. See how we have helped other small and medium businesses get their business compliant with provincial legislation.

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