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Prioritising employee wellbeing: tackling presenteeism at work

16th November 2021 Print

There is often a perception in the workplace that those who are really keen to succeed will be present at all times and working while ill is a sign of commitment. However, even at the best of times, this is an ill-advised belief. No one functions at their best if they are ill, so attempting to work through it might result in unproductive days or even costly mistakes, while possibly even prolonging the illness. Everyone becomes ill from time to time, so requiring an occasional period of recuperation should not be regarded as a lack of commitment. Instead, the opposite could be seen to be true. By taking the time to recover, an employee is actually ensuring they can return to peak performance as quickly as possible.

During the Covid pandemic, presenteeism has become more of a problem. For some sufferers, symptoms are mild, so it becomes even more tempting to work through the illness. However, not everyone is so lucky and anyone working through mild symptoms risks transmitting it to someone who is more seriously affected. In the worst case scenario, they could transmit it to so many others that an outbreak results in mass staff absence, even necessitating the temporary closure of the premises or resulting in the death of a colleague.

If any employees suspect that they have Covid-19, even if experiencing only mild symptoms, they should be encouraged to take a Covid-19 PCR test. Matrix Diagnostics is one company that can supply these with a 99% accuracy rate and quick turnaround time, allowing infected employees to quickly isolate and minimise the spread of the virus.

Check your sick leave policy

Punitive sick leave policies encourage presenteeism as employees feel pressured to work, even though their productivity is likely to be decreased. Employees working themselves into the ground can also have a long-term effect on their physical and mental health, resulting in further losses of productivity. A sick leave policy that makes it straightforward for an employee to take a period of sick leave when needed, and supports them upon their return, will result in a boost of productivity and happier, healthier employees.

Manage the workload

One reason many employees come into work when feeling ill is a sense of falling behind in their work if they are not present or letting down the rest of the team. Good communication between managers and employees here is key, so an employee knows that everything will run smoothly if they need a period of absence. Better workload management is also likely to reduce the physical and mental demands on employees, boosting their wellbeing.

Recognising presenteeism

Management should be aware of the signs of presenteeism or of employees putting themselves under increased pressure to work longer hours. Being easily approachable will encourage struggling employees to talk through problems, while programs to tackle the stigma, particularly around mental health, can prevent employees from struggling alone with their illness. If the reason for presenteeism is financial, ensuring that employees are clear about their sick pay entitlements can help to tackle it.

By tackling presenteeism, you are likely to have a more productive workforce. You will also improve your reputation as an employer, which is advantageous when recruiting. Prioritising employee wellbeing and tackling presenteeism really is a win-win situation.

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