Why Presenteeism Is Worse Than Absenteeism

Over the years I’ve looked after teams of all shapes and sizes: local teams; interstate teams; small teams; and some very large teams too. One thing I quickly discovered was as the team size grows, it gets harder and harder to have ‘all hands on deck’. Winter sets in and suddenly people start dropping like flies.

Worker picture from Shutterstock

I guess it’s to be expected. But organise a mid-year staff drinks and dinner and you’ll have 100 per cent attendance . . . go figure!

On a more serious note, whether it’s as a result of the onset of flu season, or just as a result of the winter blues, a spike in office absenteeism is hard to avoid at this time of the year.

However even if you are lucky enough have absenteeism relatively under control, another (perhaps more recent) workplace phenomenon which business owners and employers need to be more conscious of is presenteeism.

This refers to when your staff come to work but for whatever reason they don’t want to be there at all and have become totally disengaged. It has nothing to do with anyone feeling under the weather or fighting off a head cold; for whatever reason your staff member has just decided they don’t want to be there any more.

The problem is they haven’t found somewhere else to go yet, so you are paying them to be there, they’re disenfranchised, and most likely becoming toxic to your environment.

They’re probably speaking negatively about your organisation to clients, sending inappropriate messages about the business to friends on Facebook (on your time) or whispering to other colleagues in the breakout area poisoning them with negative thoughts.

This is dangerous and while you’d be better off without them, that’s not necessarily an easy solution.

Here are a few tell-tale signs of presenteeism:

  • Someone who used to always be in early and happy to stay late, now arrives spot on time and is out the door at 5:30pm
  • They look miserable and have stopped contributing in team meetings
  • They used to work through lunch eating a sandwich at their desks but now are out taking a full hour every day
  • When you asked them how they are, their response is always “fine”
  • They continually raise negative issues in team meetings just to cause a stir

How can your curb presenteeism?

If you suspect that you’re paying a staff member who has clearly lost interest, you need to address it immediately.

Putting aside the drop in temperature outside, mid-year is also the perfect time to conduct performance reviews where you can spend quality time with your individual staff members to ensure they’re still focused, that they still believe in the direction of the business, and above all that they’re still ‘on board the northbound train’.

Whilst you can provide your team with flu shots or fresh fruit to help minimise the amount of absenteeism in the business, there’s no magic vaccine to prevent the spread of the negativity germ due to the potential presenteeism epidemic.

Don’t be afraid to address it with someone you think may be displaying early symptoms. If caught early, it can save you a lot of pain in the long run.

Paul Slezak is the co-founder of RecruitLoop,a startup that’s changing the way employers source candidates. Paul has 20 years’ experience across various recruitment roles.

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