How to Reduce Presenteeism in the Workplace
Whether it’s improving processes, operations, efficiencies or staff, a primary goal of your business is to maximize your return, and an important way to do that is to maximize productivity. Unfortunately, one obstacle to productivity that is often overlooked is “presenteeism.” There are a number of good reasons to take some time to examine it, consider the negative impacts it has on your business, and look at ways to decrease it.
A quiet cousin to “absenteeism,” presenteeism is the practice of going to work (being present) despite injury or illness that is causing reduced productivity. It’s as simple as having a bad cold that is making you feel terrible but still choosing to go to work. “Toughing it out” so as not to miss a day of work is a great example; you’re there in body, but mentally you’re not all in. Physical illness is not the only culprit. We all know how important mental health is; presenteeism occurs because of mental health too. If a person is dealing with mental health issues, stress or anxiety, this too can translate into presenteeism.
It’s important to recognize that presenteeism refers to an employee who typically does perform at a higher level, but due to injury or illness is performing at reduced capacity. It is not to be applied to an employee who is simply not capable of meeting acceptable standards.
Why is Presenteeism such a big deal?
Having employees come in and get some work done is better than not coming in at all, right? Wrong. Many business experts argue that presenteeism is even costlier than absenteeism. Essentially, you’re paying for work that you’re not receiving. Presenteeism translates into a decrease in the quality of the work completed, and often a decrease in the quantity of work completed. This can have a very real impact on productivity.
There are other implications to presenteeism. If a worker comes to work when they’re ill, they could potentially spread that illness to others. This can increase both absenteeism and presenteeism in other workers.
Reducing Presenteeism in the Workplace
- Support physical health
There are many ways of supporting the physical health of your employees, but one of the most valuable is sponsoring employee benefits. The right employee benefits provide the means for employees to prevent and treat illness or injury.
Prescription drug coverage may mean an employee who is ill will fill their prescription for medication. Extended health benefits may mean the employee with back problems will go to the massage therapist to relieve discomfort. Vision coverage may mean the employee who gets a headache from looking at the computer screen may get glasses. The list goes on, with the common thread being that employee benefits support workers in diagnosing, treating and preventing physical injury and illness.
You can also support the physical health of employees by incorporating wellness into the workplace. This may mean providing a wellness spending account as part of your employee benefits package, providing free fruit or vegetables to workers to encourage healthy snacking, or sponsoring gym memberships. It can also be as simple as organizing a lunchtime walking club or an after-work running club. All of these things help encourage employees to get active, which ultimately supports their physical health.
- Support mental health
The mental health of employees can be just as important as the physical health of employees. Unfortunately, it can be more challenging to recognize and support mental health challenges because they aren’t visible.
One of the best ways to support mental health is by ensuring your employee benefits plan includes an employee and family assistance plan (EFAP). A good employee and family assistance plan give your employees access to free short-term counselling, which they can access confidentially. This way they can reach out for confidential help on any issue that is troubling them, without the obstacles of locating a counsellor or paying for a session, or without concern for the stigma that may come with seeking support. It should also include online resources on common issues and stressors that can be accessed on an as-need basis.
Other ways to support mental health include creating an inclusive work environment where all employees feel comfortable. Team building exercises, celebrating diversity and recognizing milestones are all good for mental health.
Mental health issues can also have an effect on physical health. Addressing mental health challenges can help prevent them from creating physical health issues as well.
- Educate employees
Educating employees on presenteeism, its negative outcomes and providing resources are all important ways to keep morale and productivity high.
Ensuring employees are familiar with their employee benefits is the first step. Knowing which benefits and resources they have access to can help ensure they use them to treat and prevent illness and injury. The same goes for accessing an employee and family assistance plan. Employees need to know what tools they have at their disposal to deal with stress, anxiety and other mental health challenges.
Regular communication via newsletters, posters or “lunch-and-learns” about what’s in your benefits plan can help remind employees about presenteeism and expectations surrounding it. It’s also a good strategy to have managers reiterate support for staying at home when ill and using employee benefits and resources to prevent and treat physical and mental health challenges.
Presenteeism during a pandemic
Presenteeism’s effects on productivity are one thing, but the consequences of it can be far worse during a pandemic. Public health authorities are clear that staying home when ill is vital to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only are there health implications when employees who are ill come to work, but there are business implications as well. If an employee comes to work with a cold (as they have done many times before) and then is diagnosed with the Coronavirus, other employees, visitors and customers may all be affected. Now more than ever it is important to educate employees on presenteeism and their role in avoiding it.
Good Advice is Key
Do your employee benefits help fight presenteeism? Are you looking for a better alternative to your current benefits plan? Review your options with one of our licensed advisors on the phone, or contact us for a comparison quote.