The High Price of Presenteeism and How to Address It Today

Written by:

Mark Donohue, CEO of LifeGuides

Are employees present simply because they are physically at work? The relatively new, complex workplace issue of presenteeism shows that sometimes just showing up isn't enough, especially when employees are not fully engaged.

Total loss from presenteeism is 10 TIMES HIGHER than absenteeism, costing an estimated $150 billion annually in the United States alone. It is a well studied reality that presenteeism is a much more costly workplace issue than illness-related absenteeism or disability.

In 2008, a monumental survey by Cigna exposed presenteeism’s real impact in the workplace. About three-fifths of employees worked while sick or dealing with family or personal matters. 62% percent said they were less productive on days they came to work too distracted and were concerned with their inability to perform their best.

"The survey demonstrates very clearly what every employee knows,” said Jodi Prohofsky, senior vice president of operations for Cigna's health solutions unit, “that life impacts work and work impacts life."

That’s the bad news, but there’s also good: by understanding this challenge, we can address it head on, plugging one of the most significant holes impacting companies today – and not necessarily by offering the traditional solutions you're probably thinking.

Let’s start by defining some of its causes.

What are the causes of presenteeism?

Employees who come to work with a cold are a clear example of presenteeism, since they are there but not performing at their highest level. It’s less apparent when an employee is distracted by family issues or struggling to focus on tasks as a symptom of anxiety or depression.

Factors that contribute to presenteeism include employees working when they are sick, exhausted, and stressed. An increasingly common variety of reduced productivity centers on caregiving issues that involve an aging parent, chronically ill spouse or child.

According to Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence Based Handbook for Nurses:

"More than half of adult children who provide parent care are employed. Caregiving responsibilities can have a negative effect on work roles as caregivers adapt employment obligations to manage and meet care demands. Caregivers who are employed report missed days, interruptions at work, leaves of absence, and reduced productivity because of their caregiving obligations. They have difficulty maintaining work roles while assisting family members."

Presenteeism has a negative effect on quality of work, productivity levels, rates of error, and the ability to focus. No industry is immune to presenteeism, and it’s especially prevalent for employees who are caregivers.

53% of Americans have a parent age 65 or older who needs help.$36 billion is lost annually by companies due to employees caring for a loved one with dementia.1100 hours is spent on average each year by an employee caring for a loved one.

Presenteeism needs to be addressed head on

Life Challenges are inevitable. It is the predominant cause of presenteeism loss. Don’t let it continue to slowly drain your organization’s energy, focus, and creativity. The solution isn’t the impossible task of eliminating Life Challenges, but instead, providing accessible support to help your employees navigate complex issues.

“One of the best ways to keep workers on task is to make sure that every employee feels as though they matter, not just as workers, but as human beings,” says Jack Skeen, a Fortune 500 leadership coach and leadership development expert.

Solving the presenteeism problem requires more than a Band-Aid. Organizations need to commit to creating a Culture of Caring™ to reduce presenteeism loss. While traditional tactics like providing access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) may help, there are more innovative and promising solutions today that strive to more effectively address this problem. Here are some examples:

Introducing cognitive assessment and training

Computer assisted programs are helping many company leaders address their presenteeism issue by helping their team members identify early signs of mental health issues, and boosting mental well-being and resilience.

Implementing a flexible working policy

Improving work-life balance starts with accommodating the way employees live today. A flexible working policy, where employees can choose their hours and work remotely, can help reduce employee stress significantly and allows them to better handle their Life Challenges.

Introduce mindfulness in the workplace

Preliminary studies have shown that bringing mindfulness intervention trainings into the workplace improves employee psychological well-being and productivity. From meditation to positive psychology, introducing mindfulness can have a profound impact on your employee's potential presenteeism.

Offering experienced and personalized peer-to-peer support

Life Challenges are the number one cause of presenteeism, and services like LifeGuides, a peer support network that pairs people going through a specific Life Challenge with Guides who have gone through the same Life Challenge, are leading the charge to fight back conveniently and affordably.

The ROI for the investment in employee wellness is not only measured in the amount saved due to presenteeism loss. When employees feel that an organization cares for them by offering a valuable resource such as LifeGuides, they will return that level of care to the organization and its clients.

Learn more about how you can enhance your culture of caring and reduce employee presenteeism loss here. Show your employees they are not alone.