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  • Writer's pictureTemara Willis

What is presenteeism?

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Understanding Presenteeism - Its Impact and Solutions with Adelaide Workplace Mediation

In the world of workplace dynamics, we often hear about absenteeism, but a concept that deserves equal attention is presenteeism. But what exactly is presenteeism, and what implications does it hold for organisations and employees?

In essence, presenteeism refers to the situation where employees physically show up for work but are far from productive or value-adding during their workday. They may struggle with health issues, either physical or mental, and yet feel compelled to "keep on keeping on." This phenomenon is not a reflection of laziness or incompetence but rather stems from the burden of feeling the need to persist despite not being in optimal condition.

Researchers define presenteeism as the loss of productivity resulting from genuine health problems. It represents the real challenges faced by individuals who push themselves to work even when they are not mentally or physically fit to do so. The consequences of presenteeism can be staggering, with studies suggesting that it can reduce individual productivity by up to 30%. Shockingly, in 2016, Pathology Awareness Australia estimated that presenteeism cost the Australian economy a staggering $34 billion annually, eclipsing the economic impact of absenteeism.

So why is presenteeism often overlooked in the workplace? One primary reason is its subtlety. Unlike absenteeism, where an employee is visibly absent from the workplace, presenteeism is less conspicuous. Employees may be physically present, but their diminished productivity and wellbeing may go unnoticed.

The rise of presenteeism can be attributed to a complex web of factors. In the wake of a global pandemic, job security has become a top concern for employees. Many feel reluctant to take time off work, even when they have accrued leave entitlements. Fear of potential repercussions and negative perceptions can dissuade employees from seeking the rest they need, leading to a culture of presenteeism.

Moreover, workloads and working hours have increased significantly, and the line between working from home and personal life has blurred. Employees often feel a sense of duty not to burden their colleagues with additional work, resulting in them soldiering on despite their diminished wellbeing.

The consequences of this silent phenomenon are far-reaching. Mental ill-health and the lack of accessible community services have led to employees attending work without proper treatment, exacerbating the prevalence of presenteeism. This situation is not limited to physical health but extends to mental wellbeing, with employees present at work but unable to contribute effectively.

While the idea of demonstrating commitment by showing up when unwell may seem noble, it can have detrimental long-term effects. It can lead to increased employee sick leave and exacerbate mental health issues among staff, creating enduring problems.

To mitigate presenteeism, it must be actively managed. Proper management not only saves businesses money in the short and long term but also supports employee engagement and productivity. Employers should consider how they respond when employees need time off work, while employees should also monitor their own wellbeing, respond appropriately when unwell, and consider the wider impact of their decisions on their colleagues.

Now is the time to revisit absenteeism policies and rejuvenate Health and Wellbeing programs. If presenteeism remains unaddressed in your organisation, it's high time to prioritise it. Adelaide Workplace Mediation stands ready to collaborate with your business, offering training and expertise to shape a workplace culture that ensures the long-term wellbeing and motivation of your staff.

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