by Rosie Reynolds

Presenteeism - How it affects businesses and how to combat it.

We’ve all taken a day or so off from work when we’re feeling a bit under the weather. Taking a little time off to recuperate is often the best way to get over it quickly and get back to the office. It’s not uncommon however for people to drag themselves to work regardless of illness, leading to the common phenomenon of presenteeism.  

Presenteeism defines itself as showing up to work while sick without being productive. Most of us at one point or another have probably put on a brave face and marched on when we’d rather have been in bed. At face value, this might seem like a positive thing. A certain degree of demonstrable dedication is often looked on favourably by employers, and what shows more dedication than powering through a terrible head cold to put in an appearance at work?  

In reality, sick employees are generally unable to perform their duties to the regular extent and could often lead to mistakes that end up costing more money than an absence would. Not only is an individual's effectiveness compromised, there is always the chance that sick employees might end up infecting their colleagues as well, leading to a terrible domino effect of lost productivity. There is an increasing amount of evidence to suggest that the costs lost to absenteeism are negligible when compared to the costs of mistakes, poor productivity and judgement errors made by employees working while sick. Working while ill has also shown to significantly affect increased absences over the long term, as well as have dire effects on the mental health of staff.  

In some businesses, a mindset of powering through illness and showing supposed dedication can be fostered in the workplace culture. Team leaders can be relied upon to demonstrate their leadership by working through illness. Whether the pressure to remain at work is real and enforced through policy, or reinforced psychologically through the workplace culture, it can have long term negative impacts on the mental and physical wellbeing of employees.  

So how do we tackle presenteeism? 

Taking a wider view of sickness in the workplace paints a clear picture that the long-term negatives far outweigh the short-term benefits of an employee turning up on a given day. Making it clear to employees that they are expected to take time off and recover should be paramount.  

Management policies can also form a significant chunk of the solution. Ensure that managers in charge of staff are aware of the difference between absenteeism and presenteeism, and work to provide understanding and adequate support to staff members returning to the workplace after a period of illness. Maintaining policies that are punitive in any measure towards employees who take sick leave will likely do more harm than good in the long term. Similarly, being aware of the symptoms of longer-term illness or fatigue can be vital in taking steps to stop problems before they become a significant issue. If employees are made to feel uncomfortable discussing their physical or mental health with their managers, it can be left too late before it causes more difficult problems.  

Giving employees a clear course of action to take when they face illness can be integral to a quick solution. Providing a comprehensive and easy to manage healthcare plan via work can be a good method of ensuring all employees feel comfortable in dealing with any health issues that arise quickly and easily, rather than leaving them to snowball into a much bigger problem down the line. Accessing a healthcare plan through work can help to make employees comfortable talking about any possible health issues with their managers, giving both employer and employee a better chance of circumventing the problem efficiently.  

While it might not be the most obvious issue to recognise and deal with, having the infrastructure and policies in place to deal with presenteeism should be a top priority for anyone running a business. Giving people the options to deal with their health in an open and efficient manner will present clear benefits in both the short and long term.  

Having consistent access to talk to a GP 24/7 gives people the opportunity to talk through their symptoms as soon as they might arise, ensuring an employee can make a decision about going into work quickly.  It’s also often possible to claim back expenses on items like medication, to eliminate cost as a factor affecting that decision. Getting a quick solution to a health issue, whether that be to take recovery time or get a quick, effective treatment, can usually alleviate the worst downsides of presenteeism and the loss of productivity it leads to.  

Keeping your workplace healthy and motivated can make all the difference. According to a recent survey conducted by Willis Towers Watson, the most valuable benefits to employees were health insurance, critical illness cover and health cash plans, all placing near 40% as the most important. Around 89% of respondents also felt that a benefits provision was an important factor in deciding where to find employment, demonstrating that having a robust package of healthcare provisions can not only be integral to combatting presenteeism amongst your current workforce, but also to attracting the best talent to your business long term.   

If you want to find out more about how comprehensive health coverage can help your workplace, contact Slimbridge Health today.  

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