How the pandemic has impacted presenteeism in the workplace

25 Sep 2021

There has always been a focus on absence, but presenteeism in the workplace is just as much of an issue. This was the case prior to the pandemic, but this has heightened the issue even further.

Presenteeism can be defined as when employees feel they must work, even though they are unwell. In 2019, 80% of employees still worked whilst unwell. Clearly they won’t be as productive so presenteeism really does come at a cost to employers – more than £15 billion annually. Statistics sourced from https://workinmind.org/2019/10/17/presenteeism/

Prior to COVID-19, presenteeism was seen as physically being at work in your seat, to make sure you look ‘dedicated’. The pandemic forced an immediate shift to remote working and whilst this has proved to be positive in many ways for employees and employers alike (work life balance for employees, operating costs for employers as examples), there certainly are draw backs too. In the virtual working world, we are working more hours than ever and often respond to emails out of office hours. Even after you log off, it’s just too tempting to reply when you see your phone ping isn’t it!

46% of employees surveyed by The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) said that they felt more pressure to be ‘present’ since working from home; 24% felt the need to prove they were working each and every day.

Even though we have more freedom now, the way we work has changed and it may be that many of us will never go back to the workplace full time. Spotting the signs of a struggling employee was a challenge whilst in the workplace, and this can be even harder with people working from home, where you don’t see them face to face (outside of Teams and Zoom).

Research by group risk provider Canada Life found that 40% of employees went to work whilst sick during lockdown, because they didn’t feel their illness was serious enough to take a day off. In addition to this, 20% of employees did so because colleagues/senior staff would make them feel guilty for having time off  https://www.canadalife.co.uk/news/redundancy-fears-causing-increase-in-presenteeism-during-lockdown/

Almost one fifth of adults are reporting some form of depression since the pandemic – more than double the previous rate amongst the population. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/coronavirusanddepressioninadultsgreatbritain/june2020

Continuing to work whilst you’re in ill health and working long hours consistently is going to lead to burnout and other mental health problems.

This really needs to be a top priority for employers, and implementing and managing an effective health and wellbeing strategy is key. If you would like to discuss in more detail please do get in touch.

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