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Targeting Presenteeism with Education

  • Published
  • 9 November 2020
  • Category
  • General

COVID-19 “fatigue” and preoccupation with the presidential election are estimated to be costing U.S. employers billions of dollars in lost productivity.

With the country experiencing a state of suspended animation, many people are finding it hard to concentrate and be fully engaged at work. Remote employees seem to be particularly prone to this form of presenteeism – on the job but not fully engaged for physical or psychological reasons – but those who leave home to go to work are also susceptible.

While election-related presenteeism is expected to be a relatively short-lived phenomenon, the global pandemic is too disruptive to expect employees to simply go about their business as usual.

It’s important for employers to be aware of potential consequences if they do not make a concerted effort to help employees be productive and engaged at work while retaining a sense of quality of life. This requires an understanding of workplace culture, workforce diversity and individual employee’s receptivity to interventions focused on their well-being.

Presenteeism is Costly

The cousin of absenteeism has long been associated with the occurrence of work-related errors, accidents and injuries; problems with quality control and customer satisfaction; tarnished company brand and reputation; and challenges with staff recruiting and retention. Presenteeism has also been linked to chronic conditions such as diabetes, substance use, and rising rates of anxiety and depression in the U.S. population.

Pre-COVID, an average of 57.5 days were lost to presenteeism compared to four days lost to absenteeism per employee per year, according to Clocking On and Checking Out, a Virgin Pulse Global Challenge white paper that features multiple domestic and international survey findings. In the U.S., Australia and United Kingdom, this reportedly translates to $150 billion in absence costs and $1,500 billion in presenteeism costs.

Gallup, a global leader in business analytics, has repeatedly found over the past 20 years that “being present,” also referred to as “employee engagement,” is a predictor of important organizational outcomes, even during times of upheaval.

Gallup compared top-quartile with bottom-quartile engagement in business units and teams in its 10th global meta-analysis of the relationship between employee engagement and performance. The study involved 276 organizations across 54 industries with employees in 96 countries. Median percentage differences included:

  • 81% in absenteeism
  • 66% in well-being (thriving employees)
  • 64% in safety incidents/accidents
  • 43% in turnover for low-turnover companies
  • 41% in quality/defects
  • 23% in profitability

According to Gallup, scoring in the top half on employee engagement more than doubles a company’s odds of success compared with those in the bottom half, even when employees are buffeted by external forces outside of their control.

What Can You Do?

Difficulty demonstrating return on investment in wellness programs and employee resistance to personal health interventions offered by their employers are commonly encountered stumbling blocks. Public health experts recommend getting back to basics. This may include low-cost educational campaigns that promote healthy habits such as:

  • Practicing good sleep habits
  • Eating a nutritious diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Using stress management techniques
  • Taking medications as recommended
  • Getting an annual flu shot
  • Not smoking
  • Being socially active in a safe way

According to a Gallup white paper, A Leader’s Guide to Developing a Work-from-Home Strategy, the COVID-era requires managers to consider interventions that help discourage presenteeism, including health and safety protocols that apply to employees and members of their household.

Whether they are working from home on a long-term basis or just during a 14-day quarantine or isolation period, employees benefit from authoritative guidance to feel secure. In the absence of education, support, and in some cases incentives, to promote employee well-being, the anticipated result is rising rates of presenteeism.

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