Presenteeism is the term used to describe a person who comes to work but cannot function properly. We have all had an experience of going out on a school night and waking up the next day feeling terrible but conscious of the work you need to complete that day, so you have dragged yourself from your bed and into the office.
A survey conducted by Health Insurer Vitality, which looked at presenteeism in 2019, showed that almost half of UK workers were guilty of it, compared to just 29% in 2014. Unsurprisingly, the age group 18 – 25 were particularly vulnerable, with 55% admitting to turning up to work but feeling unable to be fully productive.
With the combination of COVID-19, flexible working and the “always available” digital culture, a new form of presenteeism is becoming prevalent – e-presenteeism. According to the Bank of England, the UK economy recorded its worst economic performance for three centuries in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With many businesses struggling to stay afloat and many employees worried about job security, feeling like they should be “available” 24/7 became a growing trend, leading to stress levels rising and mental health deteriorating.
In 2020, the Mental Health Foundation teamed up with social media giant, LinkedIn, to survey over 1,000 HR professionals working from home due to COVID-19. Over three-quarters, (79%) of those surveyed believe that the extended period of working remotely has encouraged a culture of digital presenteeism to emerge, with many clocking up around 28 extra hours each month as we log on earlier and finish later in the day than usual.
Chris O’Sullivan, from the Mental Health Foundation, said, “Burnout, which is caused by unmanaged chronic workplace stress, is a modern phenomenon that poses a huge risk to our physical and mental health.” He added: “We cannot have the same business as usual expectations on ourselves or of our employees – there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to work full time, look after children at home and keep up our other responsibilities.”
Avoiding e-presenteeism in your workforce starts at the top. Ensure your flexible working policy and Employee Handbook are readily available and set the expectation with your staff that regular breaks away from the desk are even more important when working from home. In addition, managers should schedule regular calls/ video conference meetings with their team to track team members’ working schedules and discuss their wellbeing – are they feeling stressed, unmotivated or isolated? Also, encourage staff to use their annual leave and enforce the fact that checking email during their time off is not expected.
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