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...
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.