5 Ways to Promote Productivity over Presenteeism

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In offices around the UK, the number of sick days taken has halved over the last two decades. But at the same time, mental-health-related issues have been accounting for more and more of the unplanned time we spend away from work. The ongoing debate around presenteeism is seemingly being won by those who realize that a culture of ‘always in’ is bad for morale and employee health, but it’s a slow process; 80% of private sector organizations have observed presenteeism in the last year. Only a tiny minority of businesses, according to the same report by the CIPD, offer any form of mental health training for their staff.

Socio-economic factors aren’t helping. A rise in presenteeism (employees coming to work despite being physically or mentally unwell) seems to coincide with times of financial uncertainty, such as the 2008 banking crisis, and more recently, Brexit. Reduced job security in the gig economy and today’s spoilt-for-choice consumer means a never-ending stream of work to respond to. In fact, an astonishing 16% of annual leave entitlement is discarded.

Mental health conditions account for 12% of workplace absences, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) say, but that figure is on the rise because of the fall in minor sick days taken; 4.4 days pa per worker last year, according to the ONS. The effect on workers is clear; presenteeism continues to have a negative impact on their wellbeing. From a business’s perspective, the outcomes are equally stark – significant decreases in productivity (our old friends the ONS say that 2019’s third quarter saw a 0% increase on previously lamentable stats).

So, what can we do?

Obviously, it’s mutually beneficial for employee and employer to correct the impact of presenteeism, but the answer requires more buy-in from the latter than a twice-yearly performance appraisal.  Here are five recommendations for companies to boost morale, reduce stress, and engage their most valuable asset – their workforce.

1. Wipe out the worries with regular check-ins

Employees aren’t children, but irregular and poorly thought out review meetings will do more harm than good. A frequent, focused, relationship between managers and workers will motivate and ensure signs of stress are spotted earlier on. This goes hand in hand with a well-structured performance management process that actively involves the employee.

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2. Time out means time in

A couple of weeks ago The Daily Mail shared a new guide that had been written to help staff “double annual leave by booking holidays around bank holidays.” Obviously, this is not the answer.

In fact – our stats show that only 84.2% of planned leave is taken, meaning 15.8% of annual leave entitlement is discarded.

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Our stats also show that people book most of their holiday in summer and then winter sees higher sickness rates. Planned leave spread throughout the year means that staff can manage aspects such as stress much better – avoiding crisis points. There’s no need for a draconian system of when people can and can’t take leave, but it’s worth looking out for people ‘stockpiling’ their leave – for their benefit as much as yours.

3. Measure by deliverables, not time.

Woody Allen once said that 80% of success is turning up. We think Woody should stick to making films. A worker who is consistently hitting or exceeding targets doesn’t need to be chained to their desk for a compulsory hour at the end of the day because ‘that’s their contract’ – reward success with a benefit like flextime and the employee will appreciate the touch. We would.

4. Keep the faith 

At uncertain times, you need to let your staff know things are ok. For instance, with news on Brexit-related rising unemployment rates it’s important to share the company vision and progress with your team regularly.

5. Spot the signs 

Visibility of leave and data to show the weak spots in the business, as well as sickness patterns, will enable you to act. For the welfare of your staff first, with the benefit that the productivity of the business will grow. Because seeing people at their desks will not solve the productivity issue, seeing the trends in your workforce will.

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