Why presenteeism is of extra concern during Covid-19 epidemic

Jamie Mackenzie, director at Sodexo Engage, explains why employers should keep an eye out for presenteeism at this time

It’s sad to think that UK employees take half as many sick days as they did in 1993. The culture has certainly shifted and our attitudes towards sick leave are getting worse. Whilst most organisations proactively put measures in place to combat the effects of absenteeism in the office, it’s rare to find a pre-emptive initiative that tackles the more common issue of presenteeism.

Presenteeism isn’t just a niche phenomenon that happens in the odd office or is confined to a specific industry. According to research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, over 83% of employees have noticed presenteeism in their organisation, and a quarter (25%) said the problem had got worse since the previous year.

Now more than ever, with the coronavirus crisis transforming the way we live our lives, forcing us to work fully from home, employers need to encourage staff to take leave when they’re unwell. In fact, the British “stiff upper lip attitude” could be dangerous if employees make their condition worse through overwork.

Under pressure

Of course, businesses today are under huge amounts of pressure to remain both productive and profitable but that means they need to have workers that are able to turn up at their very best. Research by the online recruiter CV Library found that sadly over 52% of professionals felt ‘too guilty’ to take time off when they genuinely were sick, and one in five employees (24.1%) don’t like taking sick days as they think it reflects badly on them or will get in the way of their progression.

Pressure from bosses (whether directly or indirectly) may actually make staff feel obliged to continue working when they should really be resting. This attitude is the biggest killer of productivity and proves there is and underlining issue in an organisations culture.

Shifting the ‘always on’ culture

Boundaries. We all need them. Both at home and at work. Bosses need to lead by example and set some strong boundaries in the workplace, regardless if employees are working from home. In fact, it’s even more important when staff are working from home and feel they could cram in a couple of extra hours in replacement of time they would have spent commuting anyway.

Some solutions can include setting a cut off time for meetings, ensuring nothing is in the diary past 4 PM. Another solution being used by many firms is to enforce no emails outside of working hours. That said, these initiatives won’t work if leaders within the company aren’t enforcing them or leading by example.

Culture of course doesn’t shift overnight. It needs to be worked on continuously and leaders should be talking openly about what they expect from their employees. Regularly encouraging staff to take time off when they are ill and showing genuine care for employees’ wellbeing.

Everyone one of us needs time away from work to relax and do a little self-care and of course, there will be certain times when employees will need to deal with the odd request outside of normal working hours; but if they do, it’s important that time is given back to them. For a business to really thrive, the health of employees need to be come above all else, only then will you achieve excellent results.