Presenteeism: The silent productivity killer

Let’s take a look at the instances below: 

XYZ is a company in Delhi. Here you can find, 

  • Person A is turning up to work despite being unwell. 
  • Person B is answering emails and calls even after office hours. 
  • Person C is working during weekends and annual leaves. 

It may seem like the employees are committed to their work. Despite hurdles and holidays, they are showing up to work. 

But, Is it? Not really! 

When you look closely at the instances mentioned above, you will realize that this isn’t how it is supposed to be. It definitely has short-term benefits. But in long term, it could lead to decreased productivity. 

This whole situation is known to be ‘Presenteeism’. 

This single word is the reason behind costing companies $150 billion across the US every year. Find out more about presenteeism at work below: 

What is Presenteeism?

Presenteeism: Showing up at the workplace despite having low productivity or feeling sick.

The majority of people think it is a great idea. But, they are unaware of the long-term effects it will have on employees. Presenteeism and productivity have a strong connection. Higher the presenteeism rate, the lower the productivity level at the workplace. 

Presenteeism is the complete opposite of absenteeism. But, both have serious long-term consequences for the business. 

Let’s take a look at how presenteeism and absenteeism are different from each other:

Causes of presenteeism at work

  • Huge workload: How many of you believe that the more the workload, the more you are a loyal and efficient employee? This may be relevant at some point, but not every time. 

Employees tend to work even when they are ill to meet deadlines. Not because they don’t want to rest but the fear of letting down their team and boss. 

Also, coming back to a heavy backlog of work is another reason why they avoid taking leaves. 

  • Little or no sick leaves: Workplaces usually have limited paid leaves policy including sick leaves. It’s either they used it before the year ends or save it up for serious health conditions.

This imbalance let them be present in the workplace despite being unwell to avoid loss of pay. When employees aren’t mentally or physically well, it results in a loss of productivity. 

  • Employer expectations: The expectations that employers hold can have a major impact on their productivity and performance. Hence, employees usually think twice before asking for leaves. They feel they may appear less committed to work and may miss out on promotions or pay raises. 

As a result, you can find them exhausted or overburdened with the work. 

  • Job security: Layoffs have been a trending yet heartbreaking topic nowadays. But, even before that, job security has been a primary concern for employees. 

They fear being irreplaceable and fired. Hence, they work beyond their capability despite their body telling them to take a break. 

Detecting presenteeism at work

The causes aren’t enough to identify presenteeism in the workplace. And unfortunately, they are harder to recognize than absenteeism. 

Yet, the only way is to take note of the warning signs. Here’s how you can do it: 

  • Monitor quality of work: This isn’t a one-day activity. You need to keep track of how employees behave under normal conditions. 
    • Do they look productive yet not produce work at the same level? 
    • Are they physically present at the workplace yet mentally they are somewhere else? 
    • Does their work quality deteriorate day by day? 
  • Low absence rate: Taking leaves now and then is bad for the workplace. But, not taking any leave is dangerous. In simple words, your employees are coming up and doing nothing. Either their productivity level is low or they are not mentally or physically well. 

Hence, a major warning sign that your employees need time off to rejuvenate. Because showing up half-heartedly can impact your workplace in the long run.

  • Anonymous pulse survey: The employees may hesitate to talk about the work culture and related issues. This is when anonymous pulse surveys come into the picture. 

You can create a custom survey about this and send it to all your employees. Make sure to keep it anonymous to get honest feedback. Keep the questions short and direct so you get an accurate image of what’s really going on in the workplace. 

  • Low productivity and morale: It usually happens that when you are forcing yourself to do something, you don’t really give your best. The same happens with work too. Your employees may be working for the sake of it which results in decreased productivity and low morale. 

The hours won’t matter when the output isn’t enough. Working when unwell has a negative impact on employees’ well-being as well as organizational success.  

  • Making more frequent mistakes than usual: Continuing the above point, unproductive employees make more mistakes than usual. The reason is obvious. Mentally they aren’t present at the workplace. Hence, their attention to detail wavers resulting in great chances of mistakes. 

Presenteeism and burnout

The workplace expects a lot from employees. More than they can offer up to their full potential. Unfortunately, employees couldn’t do anything about it because they have to work to live a stable lifestyle. 

If you closely look at the causes above, you will also notice that these are signs of burnout as well. Hence, you can also say that presenteeism and burnout are interrelated to each other. And both of them have a direct impact on the productivity and performance of the employees. 

Stopping presenteeism at work

Now, you know how to detect presenteeism in the workplace. Now, it’s time for you to step up and create the right culture for your employees. 

Here are a few ways to stop presenteeism: 

  • Offer flexible working hours: The standard working hours are usually 9-5. But, the truth is this is not for everyone. And sometimes, the situation doesn’t let you follow this working schedule. 

All you have to do is have flexible working hours at your workplace. Trust them with their work and worry only about the outcome. Let the employees decide how and what time they want to work. It increases their productivity and lets them take care of their personal needs.

  • Encourage open communication: You might be aware of the age-old quote – “Communication is the key.” Have you ever thought of applying it at your workplace? 

When employees are able to communicate freely, they can share their issues which can be resolved quickly. 

It can also help them in asking for sick leaves without hesitation. And if they are overworked, they can also share it too. It doesn’t end here. You need to act upon their opinions and concerns too. 

  • Review workload and leave policy: It’s important to take one step back when you want to move forward. Hence, take out time and review the leave policy for the employees. You can have unlimited paid sick leaves at your workplace. Encourage your employees to take a day off if you feel they are working too hard. 

Also, conduct one-on-one meetings frequently with them. Keep track of their workload and ask before you plan to give extra work to them. 

It will help in managing work-related stress and promote healthy work-culture practices. 

  • Continuous pulse survey: While pulse survey helps in detecting presenteeism. It also helps in understanding employees’ behavior and emotions every day. Ensure that you conduct continuous pulse surveys frequently. 

It will help you in checking in with your employees and know how their productivity level. 

Presenteeism is a growing yet overlooked issue in the workplace. Put a stop to it today by having proper processes and taking immediate action to it. 


Note: This article was originally published on Linkedin.