Present and yet missing in action at workplace

Business Day

Presenteeism, a phenomenon spreading across the globe, is a result of disengaged employees who present themselves at work, but do not actually complete or achieve anything.

A global workplace survey shows that more than 60% of the workforce report that they are “not engaged”. They might be doing their jobs, but they are not inclined to give anything extra. Worse, another 24% say they are “actively disengaged” — discouraging their colleagues’ success.

Combined with presenteeism, depression and anxiety are now the leading causes of long-term sickness absence from work. The direct cost of poor health is estimated at about 15% of payroll, but presenteeism has an even higher cost. Combined, healthcare and the cost of productivity lost due to presenteeism can amount to as much as 35% of salaries.

Research shows that happy, healthy and engaged employees produce more and cost less. Employees with high levels of wellbeing are also more productive and more engaged in their work as well.

Eight different studies by organisations including the Harvard Business Review, World Economic Forum and the American Journal of Health Promotion, showed a return on investment of wellness programmes of between 144% and 3,000%.

Research by Nottingham Trent University in the UK suggests presenteeism is strongly and negatively linked to job satisfaction and work engagement.

“People may disengage from work when ill, but still feel a need to work because they are physically present in the workplace,” says Maria Karanika-Murray, a psychologist at the university.

“They are not able to engage with work as they would normally and this can lead to reduced productivity and lower levels of satisfaction. Understanding the effect that presenteeism is having on businesses and their workers can enable them to develop effective interventions.”

Seen as a holistic approach to creating high-performance organisations through establishing the workplace environments and surroundings that create employee engagement, workplace wellbeing relates to all aspects of working life, emphasising the social and psychological dimensions of the workplace and workforce.

Travis Imbrailo, operations director at workspace specialist firm Giant Leap, says South African companies are waking up to employee wellbeing and beginning to see the benefits.

“Unlike other resources such as buildings, technology and investments, people have a choice about who they work for, how much they give to their job and how they influence staff and employees around them,” he says.

“Our research and intelligence arm, Know More SA, has local statistics that lean towards this. The most significant one is that a whopping 41% of South African employees feel their buildings support workplace wellbeing, yet so (few) actually do.”

Top talent is not only becoming harder to recruit, it is also getting harder to retain. LinkedIn says that 85% of the global workforce is actively, or passively, looking for a new employer. Organisations need to invest more in retaining their people.

Imbrailo says employees’ physiological and safety needs should serve as the foundation of a workplace wellbeing programme. “These are primarily related to the physical aspects of work and wellness: adequate lighting, temperature, acoustics and privacy,” he says. “Far too often we have seen employees extremely dissatisfied and irritated when these simple yet basic needs are not addressed.”

He says that even once these needs are met, total fulfilment is lacking.

From indoor gyms to laundry services, catering and yoga rooms, options to improve workplace wellbeing are endless, but don’t always have to be expensive.

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