A study by Eurofound, a living and working conditions foundation, revealed that 39% of the European employees questioned said they had gone into work while sick. A similar study of the Swedish workforce highlighted that this percentage is even higher in the care, welfare and education sectors.
Such figures point to the widespread epidemic of ‘presenteeism’: employees going into work when sick or otherwise incapable of being productive. Presenteeism occurs when employees feel the need to be physically present in the workplace and put in as much ‘face time’ as possible.
A study by the office refurbishing company Overbury surveyed 1,000 employees from eight different sectors and found presenteeism is caused by:
- Expectations from management.
- Peer pressure.
- Concern over how we are perceived by our colleagues and bosses.
Employers might not see the harm in having a workforce that is always present. However, hours worked and productivity do not always correlate; in fact research suggests that presenteeism can negatively impact employee productivity.
Fatigued or physically sick employees are also less alert and not capable of making clearheaded decisions, which can increase the risk of occupational injuries.
So the question is, what can businesses do to counter presenteeism in the workplace?
- Introduce flexible work arrangements
Employers should realise that promoting flexible working and the ability to work from home will signal to employees that being present in the workplace as much as possible is not what will determine their performance appraisal. This in turn will reduce the peer pressure to be in the workplace and the judgement of their colleagues the employees experience when they leave the office to pick up their children or choose to work from home when they feel under the weather.
However, according to a recent Epson study, a significant number of businesses are still not set up to facilitate remote (37%) or flexible working (34%). Thankfully, there are technologies out there that can enable this. Moving to cloud-based IT infrastructures is one solution that can help remove the restriction of only being able to work from the office. Cloud computing lets businesses and users store and access programs and data via the Internet, allowing employees to access all documents and applications they need to do their jobs remotely.
- Rethink sick leave policies
Businesses should re-think their sick leave policies and the amount of paid sick days employees have at their disposal. Research by the Economist Intelligence Unit showed that there are big differences in sickness benefits across Europe, with sick leave cover being split differently between the employee, the employer and the State.
Sick employees who have to support a family or have financial issues are less likely to call in sick when it means they won’t get a full day’s pay. However, considering that on a yearly basis presenteeism costs a company about three times more than absenteeism, employers should think twice about tough sick leave policies designed to combat absenteeism.
- Promote health and well being
Lastly, employers must take some responsibility for promoting employee health and well being. Training and awareness sessions are one way to help employees take their health more seriously and learn what they can do to improve it. According to the UK Centre for Mental Health, this will create a more open culture when it comes to disclosing health conditions and taking sick leave. Experts also suggest that companies should encourage employees to take all of their annual leave and provide fitness facilities or subsidised fitness memberships. Time off work is essential for an employee’s mental and physical health.
Organisations should take the issue of presenteeism seriously and recognise that it can lead to a significant loss in employee output. With today’s technologies enabling flexible and remote working arrangements, there is no reason why an employee should feel pressured to put in so much face time.