……but there is plenty employers can do to combat it.
Although employers are commonly starting to wake up to the costs of absenteeism, many are still failing to address presenteeism’ – which is arguably an even greater problem.
The term refers to those employees who do actually turn up to work but fail to function at their optimum due a range of factors, which can include feeling unwell, suffering from stress or experiencing financial or relationship problems.
The condition is obviously far more difficult to measure than absenteeism because employees are present and often showing no obvious signs on being unwell. But there have been numerous attempts to do so over the years and it has commonly been found to be more costly than absenteeism – sometimes around twice as much so.
Stress and other mental health conditions invariably figure prominently. Indeed, Thriving at Work, the independent review of mental health and employers published 16 months ago by Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer, found that poor mental health was costing UK employers between £17 billion and £26 billion a year through presenteeism.
But physical conditions can also take their toll. If someone is struggling into work every day in need of a hernia operation or a hip replacement and behaving like a bear with a sore head it can not only have a severe impact on their own productivity but also on that of their colleagues.
Nevertheless, the good news is that there are plenty of steps that employers can take to combat presenteeism, and many of them involve making use of facilities in existing employee benefits packages.
A good starting point is for employers to scrutinise their sickness policies, to ensure they are not worded in a way that discourages employees who feel unwell from taking days off, and to reappraise employee workloads in case they are not permitting adequate work-life balance.
Employees should also be encouraged to make full use of their holiday entitlements and of any gym facilities or discounted gym memberships available, and discouraged from sending work-related emails outside working hours.
Employers should ensure that they have an employee assistance programme (EAP) and that its’ availability and potential attributes are effectively communicated to staff.
In many cases there will be no need to buy in a stand-alone EAP as there is one available as an added-value feature on many group private medical insurance (PMI), health cash plan, income protection and other group risk schemes. These will normally offer employees the chance to receive confidential telephone counselling, together with some face-to-face counselling if required, on a range of stress-related and other issues.
If, for example, an employee is finding it hard to cope because they are heavily in debt or finding it hard to combine work with caring for an elderly relative then an EAP might be able to advise on practical solutions as well as provide psychological support.
Group PMI schemes can play a major role in combating presenteeism by enabling employees in pain to jump the NHS queue and arrange private operations at a time that fits in with their workloads and those of their colleagues.
Even health cash plans, which do not cover expensive operations, can pay the costs of initial consultations with specialists and of dental treatment and complementary therapies like physiotherapy, osteopathy and chiropractic. Although most cash plans have modest limits, they can certainly make a huge difference to the bottom line if they manage to alleviate someone’s toothache or back pain!
Employers should also ensure they don’t overlook the extensive early intervention and rehabilitation facilities available on group income protection schemes. Even if there is no group PMI, these can still provide private operations considered necessary, physiotherapy and a rage of mental health treatments and support.
Additionally, the occupational therapists that income protection providers make available can play an important role in preventing presenteeism by ensuring that sick employees don’t return to work earlier than they should.