The return of “presenteeism”?
Do you remember the early 1990s and the adage in the workplace at the time ‘If you’re not fired with enthusiasm for your job, you will be fired with enthusiasm from your job’. Laughable at the time, but in a recent survey by the CIPD and SimplyHealth, it was reported that “presenteeism”, which can be defined as staff coming into work when they are ill or believing that they might be on the next list for redundancies if they don’t stay in the office until late, has returned with a three-fold increase since 2010.
And there is a new “ism”- “leaveism”, where staff continue to work even though they are on annual leave. In the SimplyHealth report, 69% of organisations said that “leaveism” had occurred in their company in the last year.
The survey shines a light on the shocking scale of “presenteeism” and “leaveism” we have in the UK, as people feel under even more pressure at work. Increasingly the threats to well-being in the modern workplace are psychological rather than physical, and yet too few organisations are discouraging unhealthy workplace practices. SimplyHealth said that 55% of respondents reported a rise in common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Despite the disturbing figures, only a minority of organisations are taking steps to challenge these unhealthy workplace practices. Just a quarter of respondents that have experienced “presenteeism” (25%) say their organisation has taken steps to discourage it over the last year, a figure that has almost halved since 2016 (48%). Similarly, only 27% of those who have experienced “leaveism” say their organisation is taking action to tackle it.
In order to encourage a healthy workplace, leaders need to look beyond sickness absence rates alone and develop a solid, evidence-based understanding of the underlying causes of work-related stress and unhealthy behaviour like “presenteeism”. Without this evidence, efforts to support employees and improve their health and well-being will be short-lived.
So what are the practical steps you can take as a leader, chief executive or business owner?
Here are some pointers:-
- Hold a short anonymous, confidential survey among staff to gather views and comments on well-being and workplace practices.
- Involve your team in an initiative to combat mental health issues in the workplace.
- Hold consistent ‘return to work’ meetings with staff.
- Offer support and adjustments to those returning to work after periods of illness.
Please get in touch if you’d like further advice or information about managing absence at work, we’d be delighted to have that important conversation with you.
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