Presenteeism

The Covid-19 pandemic had an undeniable impact on everyone’s lives.  During that time, the requirement to work flexibly created a new landscape, which employers are still having to navigate.

For some employees, that switch to remote, flexible working appears to have resulted in the ‘always-on’ phenomenon. There’s no real boundary between work time and personal time. This means that employees can work around other personal commitments or activities, if they wish. However some people find it difficult to switch off, in some cases leading to a culture of presenteeism.

What is Presenteeism?

The CIPD states that presenteeism occurs when people work when in suboptimal health.  Your employees are attending work when they are unwell, and are therefore unable to be productive.  Absenteeism has a huge cost implication for employers.  But interestingly, the CIPD also reports that presenteeism has a much bigger cost (according to research by Deloitte).

Why is it a problem?

Unless addressed, presenteeism can lead to a culture where presence indicates commitment and success. I.e., if you turn up early and leave late you’re doing a great job, you will be more valued, and potentially rewarded accordingly.  What it doesn’t do is lead to an increase in productivity and it can cause a toxic culture. These things will drive away talent, further decreasing productivity.

There are also other effects, for example:

  • Employees come to the workplace with contagious illnesses, which spread through the workforce, increasing absence and / or presenteeism.
  • Employees won’t take the rest from work they need to recover, therefore stay unwell for longer, or their health deteriorates further.
  • Employees working while unwell will understandably demonstrate less enthusiasm and motivation, leading to low morale. This low morale may be contagious within the workforce, even in your healthy employees.
  • Depending on the sector, employees who are unwell are more likely to have workplace accidents, putting themselves and others at risk.
  • Presenteeism means that employees aren’t giving their full commitment to their work, and therefore will not progress and develop, which may lead to further demotivation and disengagement.
  • The quality of work produced is less likely to be as high as it might otherwise be, if the employee was healthy. This may have a knock-on effect on colleagues, for example causing frustration, or blockages and delays in systems and processes.
What can you do about it in your business?

Leaders need to be proactive in changing the narrative about the behaviours that are valued in their business. They need to move away from a ‘bums on seats’ approach (i.e. presenteeism), and instead focus on outputs and achievements. One of the first things they can do is lead by example. Create those work and home time boundaries. For example, only respond to emails during working hours, or as close as you can get (unless it’s business critical). Encourage employees to leave work, or if remote, switch off at the end of their contracted hours.

Tips to reduce presenteeism
  • Find out why people are behaving this way, either through focus groups or an anonymous survey, and find out about their concerns around taking time off ill, and blurred work / home boundaries.
  • Look at your sickness absence policy. Will employees suffer significantly financially every time they take a day off sick?  Do you have a fair sickness absence review policy which is consistent, reasonable and supportive?  And if you make changes to your policy, ensure these changes are communicated. Create clear messaging that supports taking time off if it’s needed, so people can fully recover and then return to work.
  • Consider what you could do to promote a healthy working environment that supports mental and physical wellbeing.  For example discounted gym membership, walking meetings, cycle to work schemes, wellbeing apps, mental health first aiders and training for all employees.
  • If you use zero hours contracts, consider if this is a factor. Review your resourcing model to establish if you could reduce these and create more stability for your workforce.
  • Improve manager / staff communication, so that managers are familiar with their employees and have positive working relationships. Employees may then feel the can share any health concerns with confidence, and managers will spot warning signs of any health or wellness issues.

If you’ve noticed your employees seem to be working when they are clearly unwell, and you want to find out why, or need support to change those habits, get in touch.

Mental Health Awareness

Mental Health Awareness week in the UK is an initiative introduced by the Mental Health Foundation.  In 2023, Mental Health Awareness week is from 15-21st May and the theme this year is Anxiety.

Anxiety can affect people both physically and mentally. People may experience different symptoms, including increased heart rate, headaches and chest pains.  It can cause people to feel tense or nervous, making it hard to relax and detrimentally affect sleep and concentration.

Mental health is something everyone has, like physical health, and they are connected – you will have noticed physical symptoms of anxiety described above.  Equally, those experiencing physical health problems can experience declining mental health as a result.

Mental health at work

Your employees’ mental health problems have a big potential impact at work, for example:

  • Increased absence from work
  • Lack of concentration leading to reduced productivity
  • Increased accidents at work due to lack of attention
  • Increased attrition rates
  • Poor morale and low-esteem in the workforce

It is estimated that cost to employers of poor mental health at work cost £56 billion per year [1], consisting of:

  • absenteeism cost: £6.1 billion
  • presenteeism cost: £24.8-£27.6 billion
  • staff turnover cost £22.4 billion

So, if you consider the cost, investing in ways to support good mental health at work seems to be a ‘no-brainer’.

Promoting good mental health at work

Businesses can take small steps to support their employees’ mental health. Here are some ideas:

  1. Talk to people in your team and get to know them, so you can notice any changes in their behaviour and demeanour.
  2. In your regular 1-1s with your team, ask them how they’re feeling, if they have any worries or concerns, and respond constructively. Normalise that kind of conversation.
  3. Encourage your staff to ‘switch off’ out of work, especially when it comes to accessing and responding to emails outside of working hours.
  4. When addressing issues with your staff, make sure you deliver difficult messages in a kind and supportive way.
  5. Consider introducing an Employee Assistance Programme which offers a confidential counselling support service.
  6. If you operate as a remote business, think about introducing more face-to-face interactions with your team, or alternatively review the frequency of video / phone calls.
  7. Encourage employees to take physical exercise, whether lunchtime walking or yoga, walking meetings, sponsored challenges, subsidised gym membership, volunteering days or competitive ‘step challenges’ between teams.
  8. Introduce a ‘buddy’ system, where a colleague is allocated to an employee as an additional support. This provides another way for them to flag concerns.
  9. Train some employees as Mental Health First Aiders, and provide regular training about mental health to all employees and managers.
  10. Ensure your managers are meeting their team members regularly and providing feedback to them, not just via an annual appraisal system.

Mental Health problems affect one in four people in any given year [2] so if you have a team of 12 people, 3 of them may be struggling.  If those three employees are absent as a result, then that could have a big impact on your business.

If you would like help with supporting the mental health of your employees, get in touch here.

References:

1 – Source: Deloitte | March 2022

2 – Source: Mind.org.uk

5 tips for managing long-term sickness absence

Absence of more than 4 weeks is often defined as long-term sickness absence. In some cases an employee’s absence can continue month after month.  But how do employers manage this absence in a positive and pro-active way that benefits the business and the employee?

Here are 5 tips for managing long-term sickness absence:
  1. Make sure you have a sickness absence policy.  Any policy you have should include: absence notification requirements; sick pay applicable and what the qualifying criteria is; expectations regarding contact with the employee during sickness; an absence review process and how long-term absence will be dealt with.
  2. Introduce an Ill Health Capability procedure. This will enable you to manage an employee’s long-term absence through a fair and transparent process.
  3. Maintain regular communication with the employee.  Contrary to popular belief it is rarely appropriate to cease contact with an employee while they are off sick.  Limit this contact to business updates and enquiries regarding the employee’s health.  You should put no pressure on the employee to return or deal with work during their absence.  A supportive and empathetic approach should be taken, focussed on their wellbeing and what you can do to support them. This will support their ongoing engagement with the business and hopefully a productive return to work.
  4. Consider the steps you need to take to support the remainder of the team during the employee’s absence.  This will reduce any potential resentment about additional workload. The danger is that resentment builds and is directed at the absent employee, making their return to work difficult. Carry out regular check-ins with the team to enable you to address any issues they share.
  5.  Ensure you follow the policies you have in place correctly.  Put milestone dates in the diary to prompt actions under the policies and procedures to ensure you stay on track. For example: the date the current fit note expires; next planned contact date and why; when Company and Statutory sick pay expires, and the stages of the Ill Health Capability procedure.

Although every situation is different, you will be best placed for success if you have these basics in place.   The worst-case scenario is that you get it wrong and receive an employment tribunal claim against you alleging disability discrimination.  In addition to this, the employee may be disengaged even if they do return, therefore they are unlikely to be productive.  The alternative is that they ‘disappear into the ether’, making it difficult to resolve the situation one way or another.

Helpful HR can support you if you have an employee absent from work due to long-term sickness, so get in touch and we can get you on track and limit the risk of a costly employment tribunal claim.