Presenteeism is a workplace issue that has been receiving increasing attention for having a significant and costly impact on businesses, although this is just one key indicator that an organisation may not be psychologically healthy. It can be helpful to think about organisational psychological health as similar to an individual’s psychological health in that it operates on a continuum, ranging from ill-health, to healthy, right through to flourishing, with a range of different psychosocial indicators of where an organisation or a business unit or work team sits on the spectrum. Indicators that commonly reflect that a business may not be psychologically healthy include: increased interpersonal conflict; reduced team cohesion; increased psychological injury claims and rates; incivility amongst staff; escalated bullying/grievance reports and issues; poor engagement reports; high job demand and limited control and; poor person-job fit. Ultimately, all of these indicators tend to reflect a poor psychosocial climate within a business. Conversely, teams, business units and organisations at the flourishing end of the spectrum are charactered by a psychosocial climate of high engagement, high discretional effort, robust communication and innovation.
The Impacts of Presenteeism
Presenteeism and psychological health issues are likely to be seen at all levels of a workplace – across individual, team, and organisational levels. At an individual level, we may see worsening health, disengagement, and performance degradation that may ultimately lead to an individual being unable to perform the inherent requirements of their role. These effects then have a multiplier effect at the team and overall business level; at these levels we’re likely to see increased conflict and stress placed on team members who may perceive they are “picking up the slack” for employees displaying presenteeism, reduced team morale and effectiveness, and overall performance breakdowns and inefficiencies. The loss of productivity and associated effects result in significant cost and bottom line impacts for a business overall, not to mention the negative mental health impacts being experienced by the individual(s) in question, given how important ‘good work’ is to mental health.
One of the main factors contributing to employees coming to work when they are unfit to do so is work-related stress and perceived pressure to attend work, which in an organisational climate of “doing more than less” that we’re seeing currently, I’d suggest this is going to be an ongoing issue with significant short and long term impacts. Present estimates indicate that by 2050, the total cost of presenteeism will increase to $35.8 billion(1).
Negative impacts of presenteeism on individuals within a business include:
- Worsening health with no opportunity for recovery
- Greater performance degradation
- May ultimately lead to an individual unable to perform inherent requirements of their role
The individual effects have a multiplier effect at the team and overall business level:
- Impact of reduced individual productivity on team members, with others ‘picking up the slack’ and perceived unfairness, which may also directly lead to a heightened experience of stress
- A contagion effect, including physical health conditions and negative attitudes across team members
- Reduced team morale and effectiveness
- Performance breakdowns and inefficiencies
What can be done?
A whole range of factors contribute to the prevalence of psychological health problems in the workplace, however, irrespective of the cause, implementing preventative measures is the best way to manage and minimise workplace psychological health issues. Which means businesses should be looking to create and maintain a psychologically safe and healthy workplace. This doesn’t mean implementing “feel good activities” around wellbeing but rather looking at strategic and practical ways to tackle root cause issues around psychological health issues at different business unit levels.
This may include implementing policies/practices that support psychological wellbeing in the workplace, increasing values alignment, encouraging good self-care and help seeking behaviour and managing person-job fit to ensure this is not exacerbating work-related stress, which is a significant contributing factor to psychological health issues. Importantly, there is an increasing trend for organisations to equip their HR, WHS and People Leader staff with the capabilities to identify and respond to factors that contribute to workplace psychological health and safety risks, so that we are intervening early and potentially preventing issues around workplace psychological ill-health.
Where presenteeism is an existing issue, some steps businesses can consider to address the problem:
- recognise your business has a problem with presenteeism and openly communicate the importance of providing a psychologically safe and healthy workplace;
- investigate and understand what kind of psychological health and safety issues are affecting your employees, which may differ across teams and divisions;
- develop strategies to mitigate, reduce and prevent these root cause issues;
- provide all levels of staff with the requisite capabilities to identify and address issues and concerns around presenteeism; this includes supporting staff to be proactive in managing their health and to seek professional help to address health issues, particularly psychological health issues, as well as providing staff with an understanding of the available workplace supports.
Looking to the Future
It’s difficult to determine whether workplaces ignore presenteeism, or whether it’s actually a case of workplaces not detecting that it’s a problem. Australian businesses need to be educated further about presenteeism and how to implement measures to ensure it doesn’t become an issue. Workplace leaders, including HR and WHS employees, should be equipped with more knowledge and skills around identifying and mitigating issues associated with presenteeism.
Ultimately, this will improve productivity, and in the long-term, generate a positive impact on businesses bottom line, along with the many aspirational benefits of providing a psychologically safe and healthy workplace.
1) Medibank sick at work report (2011)
FREE "Developing Psychologically Safe & Healthy Workplaces" workshops
MELBOURNE | SYDNEY | BRISBANE | PERTH
CommuniCorp is hosting a series of full day ‘Developing Psychologically Safe and Healthy Workplaces’ Capability Based Training Workshops in October and November 2014 free of charge for eligible senior HR/WHS executives from large (300+ FTE staff) government and commercially focused organisations. To ensure a genuine peer based learning environment, attendance is limited to those directly responsible for developing and implementing practical strategies for workplace psychological health.
This practical evidence-based workshop is designed to help HR/WHS decision makers make sense of the increasingly complex workplace mental health landscape, understand psychosocial hazards, determine psychological health and safety priorities, and undertake a gap analysis to determine the current baseline early intervention and prevention knowledge and capabilities across various job roles. It is led by one of CommuniCorp’s Principal Consulting Psychologists and is a unique opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and skills from a recognised subject matter expert in workplace psychological health.
These sessions are hosted free of charge for eligible registrations, and expressions of interest to attend are now open. Full details of these session, and registration, is available here.
To learn more about CommuniCorp Group, and our programs, contact us on:
Email email@example.com | Phone 1300 855 140 | Web www.communicorpgroup.com