Presenteeism appears to be on the rise and hurting productivity for companies, according to a couple of new studies.

One study, done by United Kingdom health insurer Vitality, found that more than 40 percent of employees polled said their workplaces were affected by health problems and employees lost about 12.5 percent of their productivity due to presenteeism. This loss of productive time (along with another 1.2 percent for actual absence) translates to about 35.6 days of lost productivity per year per employee.

Unlike absenteeism, where you are actually absent from work, presenteeism is defined by Vitality as "being present at work but being limited in some aspects of job performance by a health problem and thus experiencing decreased productivity and below-normal work quality."

The health problem could be physical or mental. Basically, if you are overly distracted by a health issue at work, you are physically present, but not really being productive at work.

Meanwhile, the Health and Well-Being at Work Survey Report by the UK's Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) also found evidence of unhealthy trends in the workplace. The CIPD report states that 83 percent of respondents observed presenteeism in their organization while 25 percent said the problem had gotten worse since the previous year.

Presenteeism is especially prevalent in people with mental health issues because they are less obvious than physical ailments. If you have a broken leg, it is more obvious than if you are dealing with depression.

Even if people are diagnosed with a mental health issue or overwhelming stress due to work and receive time off work for it, they might opt to go to work instead. Vitality's research has uncovered that these are the biggest factors when it comes to presenteeism.

Apart from being detrimental to employees, presenteeism also affects businesses because employees who are physically present but not really mentally there are less productive than people who are ready to work.

It is on the rise likely because dealing with people via technology makes it more difficult to tell if someone is dealing with a mental disorder, according to the Head of Corporate Social Responsibility for UK electronics retailer Dixons Carphone, Kesah Trowell, who was quoted in a BBC article about presenteeism.

So, how can a business make sure its employees are not only present physically, but present mentally enough to be productive, as well?

Try these three ways of limiting presenteeism in your business:

1. Recognize mental health on par with physical health.

Mental health should be considered just as important for an employee as physical health and employees should be made aware of this so they feel comfortable talking with managers about any issues they may be experiencing. Whether they get a diagnosis from a doctor or they are merely feeling overwhelmed by work stress, the mental health of employees should be acknowledged and dealt with as seriously as any physical ailments would be.

The degree to which companies recognize employee mental health can be a factor in whether they stay with your company. The BBC article outlined how engineering recruiter Sarah Mitchell-Hume was diagnosed with depression and ultimately left her job because she didn't feel like she had any support there.

Retaining top talent for your business means not only recognizing them when they are at their best, but supporting them when they are not.

At the business my wife and I founded, we always encourage our employees to be open and honest to us about what's going on in their lives if they need some time off to deal with it. We'd rather have them completely focused on the job rather than only half there.

2. Have a wellness program designed for mental and physical health.

Often, physical well-being leads to mental well-being. If your wellness program targets physical activity, there is a good chance that it will also help people feel better mentally. In that same BBC article, another employee who worked in technical support, Dale Garbacki, lost his wife and his work performance suffered.

After he spoke to a manager about why he was putting in minimal effort, the company started him on a work-sponsored fitness program and it has helped turn things around for him. The company he works for, the aforementioned Dixons Carphone, has also started sponsoring the UK's biggest long distance run to help employees with their physical and mental wellness.

You can help employees in this regard by always making sure they feel comfortable talking with managers about issues outside of work affecting their performance and staying active and healthy, which helps with their mental health.

Another thing you can consider is subsidizing stress tests for employees to see if they have elevated levels of stress hormones. These can act as as an early indicator of possible issues.

3. Consider offering mental health benefits.

Most companies, if they can, offer health, dental and maybe optical benefits, which are all useful for people. But, not many companies offer benefits for things like therapy. If you are able to swing it, providing these kinds of benefits can be extremely helpful for employees. Mental health benefits can also help with retention of employees.

Published on: May 31, 2019
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