Corporate Wellness

What is Presenteeism? And How Can We Fix the Multi-billion-pound Problem?

Commercial Director, Firstbeat UK

The pitfalls of absenteeism are well-known, but what about that other workplace phenomenon…presenteeism?

According to a study carried out by Deloitte in 2017, presenteeism is costing UK businesses between £17-26 billion a year, and a recent government review noted that it is increasing year on year. As for the employee? Presenteeism has been linked to burnout, mental health issues and stress.

What is Presenteeism?

Presenteeism describes employees arriving for work who are unable to perform at full capacity due to illness or other mental or physical distress. This need to be present is often fueled by the same outside pressures that cause employees to work above and beyond required hours.

What’s Causing the Problem?

The high-pressure environment of many offices is one of the major factors leading to presenteeism. Obviously, the aim of any business is to thrive, and we all have personal career goals. However, chasing success can come at the cost of the people employed to achieve it.

If constantly hit with late night emails or feeling forced to work beyond contracted hours to fulfill obligations, staff can feel duty-bound to come into work regardless of their physical or mental state, for fear of the repercussions. That’s a lose-lose situation for everyone.

An employee who turns up but can’t perform at full capacity can be even more disruptive than someone who takes the day off sick. Indeed, a recent study carried out in Canada found that productivity lost due to presenteeism was 7.5 times greater than lost productivity from absenteeism.

On a purely practical level, an unwell employee could pass on the illness to colleagues – causing a domino effect that soon wipes out half the office! And, on a personal level, if the individual isn’t giving themselves time to rest and recuperate they’re only getting further and further away from returning to optimal performance. That’s a one-way ticket to burnout.

Solutions to Consider

Investing in employees must go beyond the monthly pay packet. Paying proper attention to the well-being of staff and harboring a holistic approach will lead to a better working environment and happier, more productive employees.

If you can see presenteeism creeping in in your office, consider:

  • Flexible working options. 9-5 from the office may suit some people, but others may work better from home or starting earlier.
  • Set a lunch break precedent and avoid eating at your desk. 1-in-5 Londoners were scared to take a lunch break in 2017.
  • Cut out sending/checking emails late in the evening. This is the time to let body and mind wind down.
  • Make sure employees feel safe to discuss health issues with leadership, and offer them support when needed.

Help is at Hand

One question often asked about presenteeism is, ‘How do you know when it is happening?’ An empty desk or out of office message makes it obvious when someone is absent. But how do you know when an employee is there physically but aren’t fully engaged?

Here at Firstbeat, our Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment can help identify warning signs before it is too late. The data-driven tool feeds back results on individual employee stress, exercise and recovery and helps inform better decisions at work and during leisure time. 85 percent of employees coached felt more effective with the help of Firstbeat.

You can also download our ‘Guide to Supporting Modern Workforce’ to read more on building a better working environment.

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Commercial Director, Firstbeat UK

Tim Wright has a background of over 20+ years in developing strategic health and wellbeing services for corporate customers. He strives to change the healthcare landscape, creating a more balanced profile between reactive and preventative healthcare. He is passionate about integrated cognitive, physical, emotional and social assessments combining them with cutting edge technology. Tim Wright has worked as a Firstbeat partner for nine years.

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