Combating Presenteeism: Let’s talk tactics

February 25, 2015

In our first post about presenteeism, we introduced it and discussed some of the causes and the negative impact it can have in your workplace. In this second post, we’ll talk more about the causes of presenteeism, and more importantly, what you as an HR leader can do to help fight it.

Targeted wellness investments pay off

Many helpful studies already exist to aid in deciding what those targeted investments should be. For example, a large study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health concluded that high numbers of workers with upper back or neck pain, fatigue and slight depression are among those with high presenteeism rates.

A study of over 8,000 US employees, published in the journal of Current Medical Research and Opinion in 2006, identified that allergic rhinitis was an extremely common cause of lost productivity, with 55% of employees reporting symptoms for an average of 52.5 days, and reporting that they were “unproductive” for 2.3 hours per workday when suffering from those symptoms. The same study identified high stress, migraines, depression and anxiety among the other top causes of lost productivity related to presenteeism.


Companies can also consider allowing greater freedom for employees to work from home or take advantage of flexible working hours. One company culture problem that can sneak up on an HR team is when an organization is overzealous in discouraging absenteeism. If employees feel pressured to come to work unless they absolutely cannot, then employees who are “only a little bit” sick might come to the office when they shouldn’t, because being absent could earn them reprimands, disciplinary action or embarrassment. In a case like this, the employer may be trying to reward diligence, with the unwanted side effect of encouraging presenteeism.

By contrast, an office culture that actively encourages workers to take good care of themselves and each other, and to do their best work on more flexible schedules, allows employees to be honest about when they really do not feel up to doing their best at the office. Workers who feel less secure in their jobs, do not have the option to telecommute, have limited sick time and stand to lose income or position by being absent, feel more pressure to show up for work, even if they aren’t feeling totally well.

Evidence indicates that organizations can realize serious financial benefits from covering preventative expenses for things such as medications for allergies, as well as including coverage for mental wellness benefits such as therapy for depression and treatments for anxiety. A comprehensive corporate wellness program that includes educational and engaging solutions for both physical and mental health is a fantastic way to combat and prevent presenteeism by addressing many of the root causes of employee sickness.

By including stress management and mental wellness components in their corporate wellness programs, companies can address a wide variety of the major causes of presenteeism in a proactive, cost-effective way.


Stopping presenteeism before it starts

In order to make a deep dent in presenteeism and facilitate the most productive workforce possible, the behaviors of both employees and management need reconsidering. Organizations that are serious about preventing presenteeism must examine the culture and structures that may be unintentionally contributing to it. And managers must provide assistance to employees to help them make healthier choices for themselves for the good of everyone at the office.

At LifeDojo, we’re fascinated by the topic of presenteeism, and how to set employees up for the greatest success at work. We build tools in to our programs for employees to create a happier, healthier, more productive workplace. We love to learn, so if you have experience with successfully reducing presenteeism in your office, we’d love to hear from you.

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