Does Remote Work Increase Presenteeism? - American Society of Employers - Mary E. Corrado

Does Remote Work Increase Presenteeism?

Presenteeism refers to the lost productivity that occurs when employees are not fully functioning in the workplace because of an illness, injury, or other condition.  While employees mean well when they work while ill, it can have negative effects in the workplace.

With the advent of remote work, presenteeism has increased.  It’s much easier to work from home when you aren’t feeling well, than it is to work in an office.  But is it worth it?  Employees would most often be better served to take a sick day and get the rest necessary to recover.

A recent study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology looks at the effects of presenteeism during the COVID-19 pandemic. The full paper is titled "Should I stay or should I go? The role of daily presenteeism as an adaptive response to perform at work despite somatic complaints for employee effectiveness."

The study found that working on a day when you feel ill drains mental energy that cannot be recovered the next day.  It affects the employee’s work for several days after. Presenteeism affects the employer with costs that include burnout, impaired workability, and productivity loss.

So how do employers prevent presenteeism, especially with remote workers?  The first step is to recognize the signs:

  • Visible illness while working
  • Low absence rate
  • Low morale
  • Demotivated employees
  • Increasing number of mistakes
  • Working longer hours

Culture issues that might be contributing to presenteeism include:

  • Employer expectations
  • Abuse or harassment for taking sick days
  • Little or no paid sick days
  • Large workloads, understaffing and time pressures
  • Loyalty and self-importance
  • Trying to ‘save-up’ time off

A culture shift is often required to reduce presenteeism.  Supervisors should lead by example and not work while ill. In addition, employers should:

  • Implement strategies to spot burnout and presenteeism – Managers should be trained to recognize employee burnout.  ASE recently published an article outlining signs of burnout, read it here.
  • Prepare your workforce to handle periodic absenteeism – If you are chronically understaffed, absences have a much greater effect on employees. When an employee knows their absence will negatively affect their coworkers, they are much more likely to avoid calling in.  Encourage managers to have a plan in place for unexpected absences.
  • Remove policies that promote presenteeism – Employees should be aware of when they should come into work – and when they should stay away.  Clearly communicate your sick policy and when it should be utilized.  Assure employees that they will not be negatively looked upon when properly utilizing sick time.

Have you experienced an increase in presenteeism with the increase in remote work? How have you combatted it? Email me at mcorrado@aseonline.org.

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