Absenteeism in the workplace is straightforward: staying home sick when you’re unwell, stressed, or otherwise not in great shape. But what is presenteeism? This buzzword is on the rise and refers to employees who show up but aren’t fully engaged in the work day. Very few have the stamina to give 100% of their energy 100% of the time, but presenteeism generally refers to people who go to work despite physical and mental health concerns that detract significantly from their productivity. The exact definition of presenteeism, as well as how harmful it is to companies’ bottom lines, is still an issue of debate. But issues such as back pain, severe allergies, depression, and asthma are commonly cited examples of such productivity-detracting conditions.
Right now, a lot of the discussion about presenteeism centers on how much money it costs employers. But from an employee’s perspective, presenteeism can be part of a downward mental health spiral. Firstly, going to work when you’re sick enough to stay home may signal an unstable work environment, in which employees fear termination if they don’t show up. This type of environment is sure to be psychologically stressful in other ways as well. Secondly, it doesn’t feel good to be present at work but not engaged. While a few may relish getting paid for doing less work, most of us feel better about ourselves when we feel that we’ve accomplished something with our day: risen to a challenge, exceeded expectations, completed a goal we’ve been working toward.
As a result, presenteeism can create self esteem issues combined with guilt, an emotionally deflating combination that, too often, breeds more of the same disengagement. How to best address presenteeism will vary from workplace to work place: it may involve better access to counseling and other mental health services, policies that support recovery without threat of termination, and overall communication improvements between all levels of a company. What’s certain, though, is that addressing the underlying causes benefit not only the company’s productivity and profit, but employee’s mental and physical well-being: it’s in everyone’s best interest to tackle this phenomenon head-on.
© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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