Monday Mornings with Madison

Beyond Absenteeism – Part 2

Seven Workplace Solutions for Presenteeism

Presenteeism is a work issue that is more costly to businesses and more pervasive in workplaces than absenteeism and tardiness combined.  Estimates for business losses from presenteeism range from $150 to $250 billion annually and many think that it is as much as three times that.  Employers are only just starting to realize and contend with this HR issue. 

Part of understanding and coping with the issue has been to define it.  Once thought to describe only employees who weren’t fully productive at work because they were working sick, today the term presenteeism is used to describe employees who are less than fully productive at work for a myriad of reasons including acute, chronic or episodic illness, difficulty adjusting after an illness or injury, a major personal or family problem, child care or elder care demands, or deep employee dissatisfaction.  Given how prevalent it is and how costly it can be, is there anything that employers can do about presenteeism?  Here are seven winning strategies to help reduce presenteeism.

1 – Acknowledge the problem

Like most problems, the first step in solving it is recognizing and acknowledging that there is a problem.  Even with the growing awareness, presenteeism is still often unrecognized by employers who may not be looking for it, may not realize what it is, or may not fully understand the extent of loss it can cause. Business owners and managers need to be aware of the growing issue of presenteeism or risk seeing the issue adversely affect profits.

2 – Take non-disciplinary approaches to control absenteeism

According to a survey on absenteeism conducted by Harris Interactive less than a decade ago, disciplinary action continues to be the most common absence control approach used by companies with 9 out of 10 companies surveyed indicating use of discipline to discourage absenteeism.  While organizations want employees on the job using as few sick days as possible, relying on disciplinary action to control absenteeism encourages presenteeism.  In turn, employees report to work but are unable to perform to their full capacity.  Employees that are either sick or have a problem are likely to be underproductive longer than if they simply took a day off to solve the problem or allow their body to heal.

3 – Develop and communicate a Presenteeism Policy

Develop a workplace policy on presenteeism and inform and educate employees about this issue.  Foster a culture that discourages employees from coming in sick   Make sure to include a policy that employees deemed too sick to be at work will be sent home.  Employees need to understand the company’s position on sick employees at work and realize that this can spread illness.  Employees should be told under what conditions they should stay home, and when it’s OK to return to work.

4 – Implement strategies to reduce spread of illness

It is in every company’s best interest to reduce the spread of germs in the workplace.  Here are some approaches.

  • Keep facilities and common areas clean.
  • Ensure that commonly touched surfaces are cleaned daily and disinfected.
  • Post or email information on how to avoid spreading germs to employees including the proper way to wash hands.
  • Place antiseptic hand sanitizing foam dispensers in common areas and outside bathrooms.
  • Offer a flu vaccination program.  It makes sense for employers to pay for medical measures that can either prevent common illnesses or reduce existing symptoms. The flu is not only extremely contagious, but recovery also can take three to seven days, or longer. After that, a persistent cough and tiredness can persist for weeks which can significantly increase presenteeism and decrease productivity.   Providing a complimentary or reduced cost onsite flu clinic reduces by 25% the chance of an employee developing an upper respiratory infection.

5 – Use technology solutions to alleviate stress and provide flexibility

Where possible, give employees the option to telecommute and work from home when not well or having a problem with child or elder care, or an episodic bout of illness.  Opportunities to work from home during times of crisis demonstrates to employees that they matter to the company and pays dividends in employee loyalty and a willingness to go above and beyond when the issue is resolved.

6 – Provide Paid Time Off (PTO) that is flexible

It is estimated that the national economy would experience a net savings of $8.2 billion per year if workers were provided seven paid sick/flex days per year. Employers would also benefit from reduced turnover, higher productivity and reducing the spread of contagion in the workplace.  Many companies are going further by providing Paid Time Off programs in which all time off (sick days, vacation days, personal days, floating holidays, etc.) is combined into a single bank of days. Employees then have the flexibility to take days in ways that meets their individual needs.

7 – Lift employee morale

For disgruntled employees, an important strategy to diminish presenteeism is to boost morale.  Companies with an overall low morale have more ill workers showing up for work. Over half of all organizations with “poor” morale reported that presenteeism was a problem.  But less than a third of companies with “good” morale report having a problem with presenteeism.  The focus on boosting morale should be on creating workplace policies and benefits that truly meet the needs of employees rather than providing treats or events that employees don’t really want.  For example, instead of giving employees a gift certificate for a turkey at Thanksgiving, employers might offer employees the flexibility to work additional hours during busy periods prior to the holiday and then be able to take that time off on the day after Thanksgiving.  The flex time costs the company nothing but allows families to spend the long Thanksgiving weekend together without having to give up a vacation day on Black Friday.  The easiest way to figure out what would most boost employee morale is to ask employees.  Providing employees with a way to submit suggestions shows that their opinion matters and that the leadership cares.

Maintaining a workplace with healthy and highly functioning workers is essential to a company’s success. Presenteeism is a real and potentially significant problem that threatens to drain a company’s financial health and wealth.  Implementing strategies that combat presenteeism will help a company achieve high productivity and hit its goal for profits.  It will also create a thriving workforce that gives 100% everyday.

Quote of the Week

“Success is dependent on effort.” Sophocles

© 2012, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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