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The Phenomenon Of Presenteeism In The Workplace

Following on from our recent article about stress at work, another new survey has found that what has also grown in tandem with the rise in work related stress, has been the increasing problem of ‘presenteeism‘.

The Phenomenon of Presenteeism

It used to be the case that presenteeism simply meant working longer hours and taking fewer holidays than was contractually required, mainly to demonstrate excellent attendance and a hard working attitude to one’s employer, due to fears about job security. However, in recent times, the phenomenon has mutated into one where employees are working despite being ill, again especially due to fears about job security. Nevertheless, there are also other factors, such as concerns about long term career progression, feelings of being irreplaceable, an excessively high workload and a desire to keep on top of it, and the fact that technology such as smart phones (and the ready access to emails through them) makes employees more accessible and effectively on call out of hours (dubbed by some as ‘smartphone presenteeism‘ and ‘digital presenteeism‘). However, the corollary of all this is that over time, such employees become more and more worn down and exhausted, less productive, and are often left with long term ill health problems which would not otherwise have occurred had they simply taken the time off when they originally should have done, to recover from their health issues.

In terms of smartphone presenteeism/digital presenteeism, the Chartered Management Institute’s 2016 Quality of working life survey found that 61% of managers stated that modern technology made it more difficult for them to switch off from work, with 54% admitting that they regularly checked their emails out of hours. In fact 77% of managers stated that they worked an extra hour every day on average over and above their contracted hours, which equates to 29 extra days a year (i.e. more than their annual holiday entitlement).

The New Survey

A new survey (in which over 1000 HR professionals were interviewed) by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)/Simplyhealth, found the following:-

  • The level of presenteeism has tripled since 2010. Back in 2010, only 26% of the HR professionals had observed presenteeism in their workplace during the previous 12 months. However, by 2018, this had grown to a staggering 86%
  • Leaveism‘ (i.e. employees working during their annual leave)  is also on the rise, with 69% of the HR professionals reporting that they had witnessed that in their workplace during the previous 12 months
  • At the same time that the problem of presenteeism is on the rise, the number of organisations that are taking active steps to discourage it is actually falling. Whereas 48% were taking action back in 2016, that percentage has fallen to just 25% by 2018. Furthermore, of those that are taking steps, just 10% regard the issue as a priority.
  • Almost 90% of the HR Professionals stated that employees inability to disconnect mentally from work out of hours represented the greatest negative in terms of the impact of modern technology upon the workplace, although the positives of technology, they acknowledged, outweighed the negatives
  • The number of HR professionals reporting an increase in mental health problems has increased from 41% in 2016, to 55% in 2018.
  • The average level of absenteeism has increased from 6.3 days per employee in 2016, to 6.6 days in 2018

Reactions to the New Survey

In response to the findings, the CIPD’s employee relations adviser, Rachel Suff, stated: “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 and tackling stress, which is strongly linked to health conditions such as anxiety and depression. In order to encourage a healthy workplace, organisations 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 base, efforts to support employees and improve their health and well-being will be short-lived.”

The Director of Corporate at Simplyhealth, Pam Whelan, added: “An organisation’s greatest asset is its people and so it’s vital employers recognise the need to support their employees’ biggest assets – their physical and mental health and well-being. It’s concerning to see that levels of presenteeism have risen significantly over the last eight years and more so that fewer employers are taking proactive steps to discourage it. The report shows that organisations where senior leaders and line managers recognise the importance of well-being as a whole are more likely to report a reduction in presenteeism and leaveism. Therefore, in order to tackle these unhealthy work practices, we would encourage employers to invest in a wider health and well-being approach that is embedded into their culture and one that supports a preventative approach to employee health and well-being.”

Posted in General Employment Law, occupational stress, presenteeism and tagged , , .