How HR Can Help Combat Employee Presenteeism

July 6, 2022 by Verified First

Employee Wellness - Presenteeism Blog Image

The spread of COVID-19 has made it apparent how quickly illnesses spread. Employees taking sick leave, otherwise called absenteeism, is a common aspect of work-life balance that all managers should be prepared for. However, some companies aren’t encouraging their employees to seek the true rest they need. While they may see absent employees as an inhibitor to day-to-day workplace productivity, presenteeism — when employees are in the workplace but not performing to their max capacity — could be worse for these organizations long-term.

Verified First believes in promoting and protecting employee wellness. In order to understand the effects of presenteeism on an employee and an organization, we’re going into a deep dive into what it is and how HR and TA professionals can work toward combating presenteeism within their workplace. 

Absenteeism vs. Presenteeism

As we’ve established, absenteeism is a term for when employees miss work. Whether it's to recover from an illness or attend to a personal matter, absenteeism occurs when an employee is physically absent from work. This concept is commonly linked to presenteeism, but they’re more different than their suffixes lead you to believe. 

Presenteeism occurs when an employee is physically at work but mentally absent. Because employees experiencing presenteeism are physically in the workplace, it makes distinguishing when presenteeism occurs very difficult. 

According to SCORE’s research, presenteeism is caused by the following factors:

  • Low or non-existent sick leave policy
  • Heavy workloads
  • High stress
  • Demanding workplace culture
  • High employer expectations
  • Mental health issues
  • Workplace burnout

No matter the cause, presenteeism isn’t healthy for both the employee and the employer.

The Effects of Presenteeism

While quantifying the number of times an organization’s employees experience presenteeism is hard to pinpoint, its effects are well documented. Two studies from the American Medical Association found that the loss of productivity due to presenteeism was about three times greater than the loss of productivity due to absenteeism. In fact, the total cost of losses due to presenteeism in the US is estimated to exceed $150 billion every year.

Not only does the business suffer, but presenteeism also extends the suffering of the employee. Choosing to work through an illness instead of seeking rest or medical care only prolongs the illness. Chances of spreading viruses increase when sick employees stay in the office. Mental illnesses, too, can worsen without the proper time off to address the issue. While many employers believe presenteeism to be less detrimental than absenteeism, the effects of presenteeism on both the organization and the employee show it’s just as serious of an issue as absenteeism. 

Creating a Wellness Plan that Combats Presenteeism

The responsibilities of an HR professional vary between organizations, but at the center of every role is the task to represent a business’ best intentions both internally and externally. Employee wellness falls into this category as a business thrives on the successes of its employees. Thus, when presenteeism regularly occurs, it’s important for HR leaders to be aware and take action to advocate for employees.

Today, businesses are growing to recognize mental health wellness in accordance with the physical wellness of their employees. HR professionals can support employees across all departments by exploring robust employee wellness plans. Here is a list of ways HR managers can build the business case for a wellness strategy that includes combating presenteeism.

  1. Determine the cause of presenteeism in your workplace
  2. Research established wellness programs being utilized by other businesses 
  3. Understand both employee needs and employer expectations
  4. Communicate with employees on their experience with presenteeism
  5. Stay up-to-date on legislation that dictates employee wellness

In conclusion

Presenteeism isn’t healthy for either the employee or the employer. As HR professionals, there are steps that you can take to understand how presenteeism occurs in your workplace and how you can advocate for your employees. While conversations surrounding health and wellness aren’t always easy, addressing these issues is the key to creating a healthy workplace culture.

About Verified First
Verified First is known for delivering streamlined background screening backed by the best client support, and for developing the easiest, fastest HR system integrations, for free. Our client support team is U.S.-based, answers calls in seconds, resulting in hundreds of positive testimonials and a 96% customer satisfaction. Verified First's patent-pending, award-winning integrations include over 100 applicant tracking systems, and provide clients a turn-key experience.

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