Is staff presenteeism costing your business?

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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

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Presenteeism. It’s a long word for an age-old concept: staff coming into work when they’re not well enough to do their job.

This could lead to costly employee mistakes. A poor experience for your customers. A negative atmosphere at work… And many other issues you’d rather avoid.

And when poorly staff don’t take the time to recover, it’s clear no one gains from presenteeism. Read on to see how you can address the root of the problem…

Presenteeism during remote work

Pre-COVID, staff might have dragged themselves into the office with the flu. And with all the visible signs of a sniffly nose or a temperature, employers could easily spot when staff were unwell.

But with remote work, it’s easy for staff to switch off the camera and keep any illnesses under the radar.

That could explain why presenteeism was rife during the pandemic. While many managers saw productivity shoot up with remote work, employees also struggled with long COVID symptoms or poor mental health.

Remote work allowed staff to clock in without feeling their best – and managers were none the wiser. If you’re offering remote work after guidance lifts, presenteeism is a big issue to watch. 

Discover what’s causing workplace presenteeism

Illness, mental health, burnout, and stress are the biggest factors behind presenteeism. But the bigger question is why your employee decided to show up instead of taking time to restore their health.

Common factors include:

  • Staff trying to prove their dedication and loyalty to the job
  • Worry over losing out on wages or sick pay
  • Workplace demands and pressure
  • Lack of clarity over sick days
  • Concerns over discussing mental health

But whatever the reason, you can take steps to prevent presenteeism. And here’s how…

Look out for signs of poor mental health

If staff struggle with mental health, they might not feel productive at work.

But they also might not consider taking time off like they would with a physical illness. Spotting signs of poor mental health means you can identify the cause of presenteeism – meaning you can take the right steps to support your employee.

Here are some common signs to look out for:

  • A change in usual behaviour
  • Persistent lateness or absences
  • Acting tired or withdrawn
  • A drop in quality of work
  • No longer taking an interest in usual hobbies

If you think an employee is struggling, it’s good to have a mental health ‘champion’ to handle the next steps. This could mean directing staff to a counsellor or an Employee Assistance Programme.

It’s also important to recommend booking a GP appointment. This means a doctor can provide the appropriate amount of sick leave – and a sick note – if necessary.  

Have regular catch ups

If you don’t see your staff regularly, it’s harder to spot when they’re not at their best.

Having a brief team catch up each morning (or afternoon) can help you notice when anything is wrong. If it’s clear an employee is struggling, you should advise them to head home and rest.

Regular check ins are particularly useful if staff are working from home. Some businesses have a ‘camera-on’ policy to encourage better communication while staff work remotely. This can help you spot any signs of fatigue or illness, which you might not have otherwise noticed.

Review your sick pay entitlement

Employees are entitled to £96.35 per week in Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if:

  • They have been ill for four or more days in a row.
  • They earn an average of at least £120 per week.

As staff need to wait four days before claiming SSP, they might worry about the impact on their finances. With bills to pay or kids to support, a four-day reduction in pay is no small cost.

This means staff may feel forced to attend work despite feeling ill. To avoid this, you could offer more than the statutory amount – and provide it from day one. While this comes at a cost to your business, it could actually save you money in the long run.

How? Because it means you’re no longer paying for unproductive hours – and your staff can recover quickly to perform their best.

Remember, you need to include your policy on sick pay in your employees’ statement of terms.

Consider a sick day allowance

Some businesses offer a set number of sick days. This means offering additional leave on top of holiday allowance.

In practice, it means staff receive their full pay while they’re off sick – up to certain number of days. Depending on the illness, staff could take these days off in a row or spread them across the year.

Unlike holiday entitlement, employees aren’t encouraged to book this time off. It’s just designed to act as a safety net if workers feel too unwell to do their job.

While you can’t be certain employees aren’t using the time as holiday, it prevents ill staff from coming into work to while away the hours.

Plus, sick days are inevitable. By allowing for sickness absence upfront, your business is already prepared for the financial impact. And if your staff don’t use the sick days, it’s a bonus – instead of a loss.

So if you can afford to offer extra leave (in the form of sick days), it makes absence easier for everyone involved.

Encourage a healthy work life balance

According to a CIPD report, employers who notice an increase in presenteeism also see more stress-related absences. So it’s clear there’s a strong link between the two.

Poorly staff might attend work to finish urgent tasks or manage their workload. And if there’s no one else to pick up their work, they might think they have no other option.

If burnout or workplace stress is the reason behind your staff presenteeism, you need to act. Regularly check in to see whether staff are managing their workload. If they’re not, ask how you can support them and take the pressure off.

Be clear on your sickness absence policy

Of course, you want your staff to rest when they’re not feeling fit to work.

But your staff might not realise that. In fact, some employees might worry they’ll be seen as weak or disloyal if they call in sick.

Being unwell is just part of life. So remember to reassure your staff that they’re only human – so you don’t expect them to work if they’re not well.

And whether you offer extra sick leave or pay benefits, be sure to include this in your policy and share it with your team. Remember to include:

  • Who employees should contact if they call in sick
  • How much notice employees need to provide
  • Whether employees are entitled to company sick pay
  • How many sick days employees are entitled to (if any)

If you need support with your sickness absence policy, our employment law experts are here to help. Call 0800 028 2420 to get started today.


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