Managing Presenteeism

How can you manage something that’s often difficult to see? Presenteeism is much more difficult to observe than absenteeism, yet is more costly to organizations. Presenteeism occurs when someone is on the job, but not fully functioning. This can be the result of distractions such as personal problems, pain, illness, anxiety, or depression. Most workers will continue to go to work, even when they aren’t up to par.

Debra Lerner, a researcher at Tufts Medical Center says “We’re talking about people who hang in there when they’re sick and try to figure out ways to carry on despite their symptoms.”

Anyone can have a bad day, but presenteeism is particularly problematic when related to chronic illnesses, including mental health issues. Depression is often the root cause of many counterproductive behaviors. It may be more prevalent during difficult economic times when people are afraid of losing their jobs and resist asking for help.

What is the role of the manager with presenteeism?

  • Know that on any given day, 20% of employees are probably not at the top of their game.
  • Notice how people are performing and give feedback. “I notice that you seem to be distracted today. Is there anything bothering you that I could help with?”
  • Offer your support and creativity. You might offer flex time to a person who needs to get to the doctor, or a private office and phone for someone preoccupied with an issue.

Regardless of the root cause, a referral to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) may be helpful. “Have you thought about calling the EAP?” may be a non-threatening way to make a referral. A recent study by Chestnut Global Partners asked 13,400 EAP users to respond to the statement “My personal problems keep me from concentrating at work.” The results showed that presenteeism improved by 26.7% ninety days after EAP use. Studies like this are helping to make presenteeism less elusive and freeing up managers to address it.

 

 

How to Concentrate and Stay Focused

Many research studies have now shown that multitasking doesn’t work. It is virtually impossible to focus on two or more high-value activities without reducing your performance. You will be more successful in your work if you first identify high value projects and focus on those first. How?

First, make two lists; a project list and a task list. A project is bigger and includes multiple tasks. A task is a single thing that you can typically do in one session. Completing your most important projects will help realize your success over the year. Here are some steps:

  1. Make a project list and put an “A” next to projects of highest value. Those are the ones that will move you toward completing your larger goals.
  2. Pick your top “A” project and mark it an “A1.”
  3. Identify the tasks required to complete your “A1” You will know where to begin when you prioritize the tasks for your “A1” project.
  4. Check over your task list for any urgent issues that might come back to haunt you if you don’t do them now. This will prevent unnecessary crises. Don’t let this derail you from your high-value project.
  5. Before starting your work, pick a time frame to devote to completing the necessary tasks. For example, will you work on the project for 2 hours or all day?
  6. If you are a manager, you may have someone you want to develop. Consider whether one or more of these projects could be delegated. Try to avoid the excuse, “I can do it faster myself.”

Minimize distractions by putting yourself in the right environment, free of interruptions. Having a clean work surface may help you focus. Now you’re ready to practice mindfulness and concentrate on the project at hand. Observe yourself as distractions attempt to take you away.

In spite of best intentions we can sometimes be our worst interrupters. Notice your concentration and whether you are drifting away and thinking about something else. When that happens, gently bring yourself back, without judgment, to the job at hand. Don’t fragment your attention!

What’s your “A1” today?