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The rise of the ‘ism’…..

The rise of the ‘ism’…..

First came absenteeism, next presenteeism and now we have leaveism.

Absenteeism is most easily understood as a culture of employees not coming into work, most commonly because they are sick but sometimes because of other matters like family emergencies. Absenteesim can be long-term or short-term and can be very costly to an employer. Excessive absences can reduce productivity thereby having a major impact on company financials, and can impact on employee morale. It can be a difficult problem to tackle because for every legitimate reason for missing work, there are probably at least two poor excuses for missing work. The odd sick day here and there is inevitable. However, it is a culture of regular absences that is most challenging to employers, and that can have the greatest negative impact.

Presenteeism is a culture whereby employees still come into work but are not productive because they are unwell and should have stayed at home or because they are simply not engaged or motivated e.g. employees staying late in the office because they think that is the done thing. Whilst absenteeism is visible and can be measured, the same is not true for presenteeism. Growing evidence suggests that in fact presenteeism is more costly for a business than absenteeism. The economic pressures faced by a lot of employers over the years have resulted in budget cuts and, in turn, a reduction in headcount, yet for many employees, their work load has not changed and sometimes has even increased. Many employees are concerned about further downsizing and job losses and so do not want to be seen as taking time off for sickness absence so they continue to come into work thereby adding to the culture of presenteeism. Such behaviour has a wider impact than just the employee presenting for work. Not only will presenting for work take the employee longer to recover from the illness, but staff morale in general can take a hit and there is the risk that more members of the team / workforce will contract the illness as a result of the employee presenting for work or maybe affected by the lack of engagement or motivation.

The other ‘ism’ that is difficult for employers to measure and is the most recent addition to the ‘ism’ dictionary is leaveism. This is seen as the culture whereby employees use annual leave to work or to mask the fact that they are sick or simply take work home with them. Again, this is not something that can easily be monitored by employers so it is difficult for employers to know how prevalent this practice is. Leaveism could be a knock on effect of presenteeism in that if employees are less productive in the day (because they are attending work when they are ill or not motivated or engaged) they will inevitably be less productive and may find themselves taking work home or using up their annual leave to complete their work. This is all too easy in the world of smart phones and tablets where employees can often access work anytime and anywhere and can easily conceal that they are working long hours because they do not need to be in the office to work.

So, what can employers do to prevent an ‘ism’ epidemic...

  • Try and get to the root of the problem which often involves implementing an effective absence management policy including, where necessary, return to work interviews. It is important that such policies are applied in a supportive and flexible way so as to encourage employees to be honest about their situation and be fearful of the fact that if they are not genuinely ill, they risk graver consequences.
  • Ensure employees are taking the leave they are entitled to and that they are actually using it for the right purpose e.g. annual leave is not used as a continuation of work. Depending on how draconian you want to be, you could follow in the footsteps of the German car manufacturer Daimler and give employees the option of putting on an out of office that states all emails received during leave will be deleted. Employees therefore won’t be receiving any emails they feel compelled to answer nor would they have a huge backlog of emails on return. Many other organisations have implemented measures to ensure non-working time / annual leave is used for its proper purpose e.g. requiring employees to hand in company devices before annual leave, blocking the arrival of emails during evenings or weekends, restricting access to the office during non-working hours.
  • Consider removing the label attached to different types of leave (e.g. “sick leave” or “holiday”) and simply give employees a certain number of days “paid leave” (which must be at least 28 days to comply with the minimum holiday requirements) so employees would feel less conscious about the type of leave they are taking.
  • In some circumstances, it might be better off for all if the employee works from home. For example, often where employees have a cold or something similar, they do notfeel unwell enough not to go into work but at work, they are less productive and risk sharing their germs with the team. In these circumstances, you may often find that a sensible solution is to allow the employee to work from home where they can keep their germs to themselves and feel more comfortable.
  • Consider introducing employee wellness strategies.

Healthier, happier employees will be more able and motivated to go to work each day, resulting in increased productivity and higher morale for the individual workers as well as the entire team. Although taking some or all of the steps suggested above may be expensive to implement and maintain, they can have a major positive effect on a company’s bottom line.