Presenteeism in the workplace

How can you stop your employees from overworking?

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Thursday, Mar 14, 2024

There’s a new-fangled practice in the business world. It’s “presenteeism” and some employees, and potentially even business owners, think it’s a great idea.

Unfortunately, it can have counterproductive long-term consequences.

So, in this article we’ll take a look at what this habit is and how you can stop your staff members from doing it.

What is presenteeism in the UK?

Simply put, it’s the opposite of absenteeism. All business owners know what that is. But fewer might consider the effects of overly present employees.

A presenteeism definition is as simple as this: employees who work while sick or provide excessive overtime. 

In the economic downturn of recent years, more and more staff members become reluctant to take time off.

This is in the fear it may lead to them having an unfavourable viewing by management. The result is employees:

  • Turning up to work when they’re sick.
  • Staying far later than they need to during the working week.
  • Coming into work at the weekends or during annual leave.
  • Continuing to work from home at the weekend, or when returning home.
  • Answering emails late into the night to stay on top of tasks.

The reality of this overcommitment is presenteeism in the workplace. And it isn’t a good thing.

Although it may offer short-term benefits, in the long-term it can lead to your staff members becoming anxious, depressed, and overly stressed.

This, in turn, leads to decreased productivity.

Contributing factors to presenteeism

So why would staff members over commit and spend their free time working instead of relaxing?

According to the CIPD survey Health and well-being at work, this habit of overworking has more than tripled since 2010.

As such, it’s fair to say modern business now promotes a presenteeism culture. The most common reasons for this are:

  • Perceived pressure from management.
  • Work-related stress.
  • Money worries.
  • Job security concerns.

With the British economic downturn continuing, many employees are simply worrying about their roles.

They’re worrying about businesses downsizing and making staff redundant.

So, in an overzealous response, some take to overworking. And, as discussed above, presenteeism in the workplace is not a good thing at all.

Sickness presence and its problems

One of the most common examples of presenteeism is an employee arriving at work despite being sick. This presents several problems:

  • The ill staff member is only delaying their recovery.
  • The work they provide won’t be to their normal standard.
  • If contagious, they risk infecting the rest of your staff.
  • They will stress themselves out to a greater extent.

One of the causes of this is that presenteeism is more common among employees with low job security.

For example, this may be new or temporary staff. They may lack sick pay or other such financial buffers. And the result is they’ll battle into work to ensure they don’t miss out on their full salary.

If this is the case, you can review your sickness policy to see if you can make improvements to the situation.

But don’t discount personality types as well. You’ll always have an employee happy to come into work regardless of their condition—if they’re a workaholic who's overly enthusiastic about their role.

The problem with presenteeism

Now you’ve got a good grasp of what it is, let’s take a closer look at some of the problems it can cause:

  • Wider business sickness issues—ill employees coming to work regardless of their condition can make other staff members ill. This can have a major impact on your business’ productivity.
  • A sick employee’s attendance can affect their colleagues’ morale as they worry over whether they’ll get ill as well. Again, this is another productivity issue.
  • From a legal perspective, it’s your duty to look after your staff. And if they’re overworking themselves to the extent it affects their physical and mental health, you have to take steps to manage their health & safety.
  • Productivity issues. Ultimately, consistently overworking employees will tire themselves out. They could end up burnt out—emotionally incapable of producing high-quality work.
  • Increased mistakes as staff members, through fatigue, attempt to work to a standard they’re mentally not able to maintain.

Prevention methods

Okay, so now you’ve got a good idea of why your employees need to honour their schedule.

There’s nothing wrong with them having commitment to their job and performing some occasional overtime. But when it’s a consistent theme you can soon have an unwell member of staff.

As such, here are a few preventive measures you can take to stop presenteeism:

  • Training: Offer your line managers upskilling so they’re able to recognise the issue early on and move to stamp it out.
  • Capability policies: Take a different approach to sickness. If an employee exceeds their sick day quota, rather than disciplining them you could try a support structure to encourage sick staff back to work.
  • Paid sick leave: To stop employees from battling into work, offer statutory sick pay. This will ease a lot of pressure from them and allow them to recover properly before returning to work.
  • Staff surveys: Hold monthly surveys to ask your employees about their working life with you. This could provide insights into why some of them may be overworking.
  • Develop a wellbeing strategy: Introduce health-promoting initiatives at work to encourage better mental, and physical, health. This could include a cycle to work scheme or free fruit.

Do you need more help with this topic?

We can help deal with the issue of overwork and improve your company culture. Get in touch with us today on: 0800 783 2806.

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