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.