Running Your Business

What Is Presenteeism and How Will It Affect Your Small Business?

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Posted by February 23, 2017

Samantha made it into work today—thank goodness. She’s your only administrative employee, and she needs to process payroll and reorder inventory. It’s the busiest time of the month, and your staff need to get paid at the end of the week. But Samantha is also sick. She’s coughing and sneezing, and while you’re so grateful to have hired such a dedicated employee, you’re concerned for her well-being.

As a business owner, it can be difficult to weigh your employee’s needs against the needs of your business, though the two are more interrelated than you may think. Presenteeism is a significant issue for small-business owners when their employees work when feeling ill, so it’s valuable to encourage your workers to take time off to recuperate and put systems in place to cover for their absences.

What Is Presenteeism?

Presenteeism occurs when employees come to work despite having a physical or mental ailment that would otherwise mean they’d take the day off. When employees work while feeling under the weather, they’re usually less productive, engaged, and present in the moment. Their attention is elsewhere, and this means their work output suffers. Your sick employees are either concentrated on the pain or illness, or are simply altogether not feeling the mental clarity they usually come to their jobs with on a normal day.

So, basically, this means your employees are physically present—they did show up for work!—but their productivity is suffering, which directly affects your business.

How to Measure How Present Your Employees Are

Unlike absenteeism, presenteeism is quite difficult, if not impossible, to measure. It’s easy to track how many days an employee misses work, leaves early, or shows up late, but do you know how to determine employee engagement when they are physically present? First, it’s important to identify if there are any physical symptoms of an illness. Like Samantha in the example above, you may notice an employee coughing or sneezing. Other signs may be hidden in plain sight, such as a bandaged wrist which may be sprained after a recent fall. However, there are many other conditions, such as an autoimmune disease, extreme anxiety about a personal situation, or a dental emergency, that you’re completely unable to see, and therefore have no way of knowing.

If you can identify an illness, pay attention to their output, and provide support whenever possible. The best way to measure presenteeism is to be fully in the know. This does not mean you should begin micromanaging your employees—rather, the opposite. You’ve hired competent, dedicated staff, and your responsibility is to lead them. Part of being a good small-business owner and leader is knowing your team personally, so you’re better able to identify when they aren’t producing their baseline quality of work.

What Do You Do If Your Employees Aren’t Present?

Presenteeism often occurs because employees are nervous to take time off work. As a small-business owner, it’s your job to model behavior and sentiment to encourage employees to utilize their accrued sick time and benefits when they’re feeling under the weather. If you’re constantly showing up for work sick, you’re setting a bad example for your workers. Take care of yourself, so your employees will model your positive example of wellness.

Next, support your employees. They may need encouragement to make an appointment at a medical professional’s office or take the day off work. Sometimes your staff may not practice the best self-care, but with a little encouragement from someone else, they’ll take the steps necessary to take care of their health and well-being. Support also includes ensuring your employees that their responsibilities will be taken care of in their absence. In the example above, the small-business owner was anxious about Samantha being sick, as she was the only administrative employee in the company and payroll needed to be processed right away. Set your team up for success by making sure everyone’s position has some type of backup. In very small businesses that can be difficult to put into practice, so take the initiative yourself to learn your employees’ jobs, so you can complete the work when they’re unable to.

By taking care of your employees and encouraging them to take steps to be healthier, you’ll notice your workforce—including Samantha—becomes more present and productive, benefiting your business in the long run.

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