Top tips for preventing presenteeism in the ‘virtual’ workplace

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By Kayleigh Frost, Head of Clinical Support at Health Assured

Presenteeism is a serious issue. People continuing to attend the office when sick, stressed, or burnt-out is a vicious cycle. If you’re already suffering, working through it isn’t going to make it any better. You might spend time at your desk, but when you’re unable to do anything productive with that time, there are no benefits for anyone.

Virtual presenteeism is just as bad, if not worse, as some employees may push themselves to work every hour of the day while at home. An ‘always-on’ culture is extra-hard to shake if you’re always in the place where you do your work, after all.

With COVID-19, virtual presenteeism has become much more of a problem. Many workplaces that haven’t had remote workers in the past have been forced to embrace this new normal. And virtual presenteeism has become something of a silent issue.

Employees who insist on working when sick may be present in body but aren’t often present in mind. It’s challenging to concentrate and give your best when you feel rotten—this can be due to stress, anxiety, or even a COVID vaccine. Presenteeism can lead to a disengagement of staff from work, which can then lead to them performing below par, thus not attaining the usual standards that their employers have come to expect of them.

There are some easy ways to spot, manage and combat presenteeism—even in remote workers:

Presenteeism policy: if you recognise it as a problem within your organisation, then you can introduce a workplace presenteeism policy. The document should outline your stance on employees continuing to work sick. This should help staff members understand under what conditions they should take some time off. For example, if their illness becomes a risk to their health and well-being and the people around them or impacts productivity.

Encourage healthy living: taking note of employee health and wellbeing may also involve introducing a healthier lifestyle at work. This can range from encouraging employees to take regular breaks to get up from their workspaces to more progressive activities, such as lunchtime or post-work fitness classes. As well as helping to boost staff morale and motivation, it will encourage employees to take their health more seriously, which in turn can help decrease the level of sickness they experience. Collaborating with employees on step challenges or online fitness classes is a great way to do this.

Workplace environment: ensuring that a remote worker’s space is fit for purpose is very important. The right amount of space, air movement and cleanliness is necessary—sitting on a stool at the kitchen table is likely to lead to back issues which will cause further problems for the employee. Offering to supply good office furniture is a move that might seem costly at first but will save your organisation money in the long run.

Lead by example: as an employer, you need to practice what you preach. If you don’t want your staff to work while they’re ill, then you shouldn’t either. Although it’s better to give yourself time to recover properly, consider keeping in touch via phone or email if there’re urgent issues that need to be addressed immediately. If your staff see you doing this, they’re likely to do the same.



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    Lisa Carter

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