Jamie Mackenzie, director of marketing at Sodexo Engage, considers the impact of presenteeism on employee mental health
This World Wellbeing Week, it’s important to reflect on the need to take time out. The number of sick days UK employees take has recently fallen to a record low – and is now almost half of what it was in 1993. While this may sound like good news, these statistics don’t actually tell the whole story. The truth is that over 7 million employees admit they go to work when ill for fear of being judged by their employers and co-workers.
Some businesses may think they’re doing the right thing by cracking down on bogus ‘sickies’, but they could be doing more harm than good. Studies have shown that presenteeism – where employees turn up to work but are unable to give their best – can be incredibly damaging for business, with workers’ stress, depression and anxiety costing the economy £30 billion last year.
Healthy employees, healthy business
With the Coronavirus forcing lots of employees to work from home and remote working likely to become the new norm for the foreseeable future, it’s important that it’s not a case of out of sight, out of mind. If employees who are feeling overwhelmed, distracted or unwell choose to work because they’re worried about letting their team down, it could lead to even bigger problems.
Employers have a duty to make sure that mental wellbeing is taken just as seriously as physical health in the workplace. If an employee were to turn up to work with a bad back or a migraine, managers would encourage them to go home and get better – so the same should apply to mental health. Businesses might be feel under pressure to boost profits right now, but there is no way they can thrive over the long-term without healthy employees.
Encouraging staff to take a mental health day isn’t a matter of letting them skive off; it’s about taking the steps to reduce burnout. The numbers speak for themselves – according to Gallup, 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work all the time or very often, while a further 44% admitted to feeling burned out sometimes.
If team members are suffering from presenteeism, it will have a knock-on impact on their colleagues and the wider business too. Employees who feel happy, rested and engaged are not only more enjoyable to work with, but they are also much better advocates for the business when it comes to attracting both customers and talent.
Building supportive cultures
It’s not enough to just pay lip service to mental health. Businesses need to live and breathe a culture that puts employee wellbeing first, and have measures in place to help employees look after themselves. After all, a culture where people feel trusted, valued and cared for is the backbone of a happy workforce.
One of the best things about building a great workplace culture is that it can be done by any company, any size and it doesn’t need to cost a penny. Senior management can start by improving the channels of communication, whether it’s a just casual coffee catch up on Zoom or a monthly one-to-one. Regularly touching base in this way will help employees feel more supported.
Managers should also lead by example and set boundaries in the workplace. One of the downsides to working from home is that the lines between work and home life can become easily blurred and the ‘always on’ culture we live in can make it hard to take some much-needed time out.
It’s really important to encourage employees to unwind. One way of doing this is to introduce ‘cut offs’. With this approach, managers can instruct teams not to email each other outside of working hours, make sure that team meetings are not pencilled in for late in the day, and encourage employees to take their annual leave.
Culture doesn’t shift overnight; it takes continual effort. However, for a business to really thrive and boost productivity – as well as its bottom line – it needs to put the health of its employees first and foremost.