BY Antoinette Blunt, MPA, CHRP, SHRP

For years employers have been dealing with the management of absenteeism in the workplace, but now presenteeism or employee disengagement is becoming just as prevalent. A study by WorkWell (the research unit for economic and management sciences at North-West University in South Africa) reports that presenteeism can be broken down into three categories: impaired, overcommitment and disengagement.

Impaired presenteeism occurs when employees go to work in ill health and are then distracted by their ailments—flu is one of them and can, of course, lead to further loss of productivity and absenteeism because others may become ill. Protocols need to be established and adhered to for the health and safety of all employees.
The overcommitment variety can come into play when employees who work many long hours on a consistent basis end up stressed and exhausted, both of which can decrease productivity and the quality of work produced. Supporting work/life balance and flexibility of working arrangements enhance and support stability in a balanced work commitment.

Disengagement presenteeism is perhaps the most insidious and manifests itself when employees simply are not motivated to work to their full capacity. The lack of motivation and negative behaviour of the disengaged employee can be disruptive to the workplace. Work may or may not get done; there may be increased errors and increased costs and other workers may begin to feel dissatisfied. It is like a slowly spreading infection in an organization.

In each of the three types, the employee’s body is at work, but their mind is not. And it is not a small problem. A 2004 study published by the Harvard Business Review looked at one company and found that 63 per cent of the cost of lost productivity was due to presenteeism; other studies have shown that a lack of engagement on the part of employees leads to high turnover rates, which also reduce productivity.

What can employers do?

While employees have a responsibility to find fulfillment and satisfaction in their jobs, management also has a role to play in building the conditions to make that happen.

From the beginning of the employment relationship, employees need to feel a sense of inclusion and understand their importance as a member of the team. When employees understand their role and responsibility in the organization, it makes a difference to overall success and the achievement of corporate goals and objectives. In his book, Energizing Organizations, Michael Koscec states, “Creating a culture of employee empowerment is vital to increasing service quality and reducing employee turnover. One of the benefits of empowerment is that employees are motivated to do better, more meaningful work because management trusts them to make good decisions.”

Ongoing effective communication and dialogue with employees instills and supports employees to achieve at an optimal level. Collaborating with employees, ensuring they are aware of what is going on in the organization, involving them in planning and listening to their opinions makes a difference. As long as employees believe their presence makes a difference, they will be motivated to contribute.