How Presenteeism is Killing the Productivity at Your Workplace

Do you know this problem? You’ve been staring at your computer screen for minutes or even hours, but you’re unable to focus and complete your task. And that’s not because the work is too complicated, but because you’re preoccupied. A physical or mental condition is preventing you from focusing adequately.

Researchers call this phenomenon “presenteeism” – the problem of workers’ being on the job but, because of illness or other medical conditions, not fully functioning. The result is lost productivity. What’s more, contrary to the other big productivity-reducing factor, absenteeism, presenteeism isn’t always apparent. It’s obvious when someone doesn’t show up for work. But it’s much less obvious when an illness or medical condition is hindering someone’s performance.

What’s important to note in this context is that employees contributing to presenteeism are, by definition, trying to give their best efforts but are physically or mentally unable to do so.

Many of us have experienced an increase in presenteeism during the current Covid-19 pandemic. And here, it has mainly psychological reasons. As a consequence of the pandemic, individuals and communities who have previously never given a second thought to their mental wellbeing are suddenly confronted with considerable degrees of stress, uncertainty, fear, worry, and concern. The changes that people face are major known psychological risk factors for anxiety, depression, and self-harm. And they can be a strong cause of presenteeism!

The phenomenon of presenteeism has been studied by researchers for quite some time now. A common consensus has emerged that presenteeism is typically of greater consequence to the employer than absenteeism. Take depression research as an example. Greenberg et al (2015), for example, have found that employees with major depressive disorders only work at 70% of their peak performance and lose about 32 incremental workdays to presenteeism.

Likewise, Harvard Medical School (2010) has taken a look at the costs that employers incur due to absenteeism and presenteeism. They found that these indirect costs far exceed companies’ spending on direct costs such as health insurance contribution or pharmacy expenses. Workers with depression, for example, reported the equivalent of 27 lost work days per year. 9 of those were lost because of sick days or other time taken out of work. A staggering 18 days, however, reflected presenteeism.

These numbers show that employers have a strong incentive to invest in the mental health and wellbeing of workers – not only for the sake of the employees but to improve their own bottom line. Presenteeism has a serious impact on productivity at your workplace!