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Presenteeism vs. Absenteeism - The hidden workplace threat

Updated: Oct 21, 2023

Presenteeism may not be as obvious as absenteeism, but its effects can be equally, if not more, damaging.

Presenteeism refers to the state of employees physically (or remotely) attending work but not being mentally or emotionally present. They may be physically at their desks, but their minds are elsewhere, distracted by personal issues, health problems, or workplace stress.

Sometimes employees feel obligated to show up even if they feel unwell but not enough sick leave, or they are highly driven and feel guilty for not going to work; This results in a decline in performance, the quality of the work produced is compromised, costly errors in task delivery, and it takes them longer to do a simple task.

Office presenteeism may occur due to lack of engagement, physical or mental illness, stressful work or personal issues; which means far-reaching consequences on both individual well-being and overall productivity.

In addition, presenteeism can lead to long term impact on employees emotional and physical health, decrease productivity, efficiency, and creativity.

Presenteeism can be more damaging than absenteeism in the workplace.

Absenteeism is where people are not physically or remotely engaged to do work, or they are on leave.

Studies showed that absenteeism costs companies about 4 days a year per employee, compared to an even more impressive 57.5 days lost to presenteeism. (Sourced from enhesa)

According to PWC , workplace presenteeism can be due to mental health issues (stress, anxiety, depression or others). Untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces $10.9 billion per year – $4.7 billion in absenteeism, $6.1 billion in presenteeism and $146 million in compensation claims. (sourced from Job Access)

Absenteeism may be preferable due to the following:

· When the employee is unwell, taking time off to recover helps them heal faster.

· In the workplace, a contagious disease can spread like wildfire, affecting multiple

employees, and reducing productivity.

· Taking time off, when necessary, allows for creating work-life balance.

Addressing Presenteeism

Here are four strategies for leaders to tackle workplace presenteeism:

1. Encourage open communication within the workplace. Employees should feel

comfortable discussing their challenges or stressors with management.

2. Promote a healthy work-life balance by setting reasonable expectations and encouraging

employees to take time off when needed.

3. Provide training on emotional intelligence, stress management and mental health support

can be beneficial.

4. Offer flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or flexible hours, can help

employees better manage personal and professional responsibilities, reducing the stress that

leads to presenteeism.

Addressing presenteeism is essential for ensuring a healthy and productive workforce. By measuring and quantifying presenteeism you will be able to see the hidden costs and implement strategies to combat it.

It is not just about being present; it's about being fully engaged in the present moment.

Here are my questions to you:

How have you encountered presenteeism in your workplace?

What strategies have you found effective in tackling it?

Share your experiences and insights in the comments below!"

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