Absenteeism costs UK businesses more than £15 billion every year, improving employee health and well-being can have a positive impact on your company’s finances, as well as increasing productivity and engagement in the workplace. But additionally, if you were to focus on presenteeism you may realise that this can cost you twice as much.

On average, presenteeism cost businesses the equivalent of three months per year in lost productivity, according to a new Global Corporate Challenge (GCC) Insights report.

GCC’s study on presenteeism – the phenomenon where employees show up for work but don’t perform at full capacity – included nearly 2,000 employees and validated against the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Workplace Health and Productivity Questionnaire (HPQ).

The report found that while employees were absent from work an average of four days per year each, they confessed to being unproductive on the job for 57.5 days each – almost three working months. Businesses wanting to improve productivity should focus on reducing presenteeism, notes one of the study authors.

“This study, and a growing body of independent research, indicates that businesses are focused on the wrong measure of productivity; absenteeism is not the major culprit,” says GCC Insight’s data scientist, Dr. Olivia Sackett. “Businesses use absenteeism rates as an indicator of engagement and productivity because it’s easy to quantify. If your employee is at their desk or on the work site, you can tick a box.”

The cost of presenteeism to businesses also was 10 times higher than absenteeism. Absent workers cost employers around USD $150 billion per year, but those who came to work and were not fully productive cost USD $1,500 billion per year.

Surely therefore it’s time to change the conversation and start prioritising under-performance over absenteeism.

We need to stop talking about how many sick days people are taking and focus our energy on what they’re doing when they’re actually at work.

Presenteeism can be easy to identify; and being more tuned in to the wellbeing of employees is not only good business management, it is good for people too.

Dr, David Batman, GCC’s chief medical officer, is a registered consultant specialist in occupational health with expertise in psychological health at work.

“The world of work has become increasingly insecure,” Dr. Batman says, “Employees at all levels worry about the uncertainty of their futures and that of their families and increasingly do not know who or what to trust. Disposable income is challenged and it is very hard for many to meet all their financial demands.”

But one of the main issues, he claims, is the stigma around mental illness. Employees do not want to admit to depression, anxiety or other types of mental illness for fear of being seen as a failure or defined by their illness. Such illnesses affect sleep, says Batman, and consequently fatigue, decrease in concentration and memory occur.

Consequently, employees do not want to be absent from work, so they show up “far from full mental and intellectual capacity”.

The Akerberg Thomas i-HR solution:

  1. It’s a simple message – Pay Attention! If you notice something has changed with the productivity of your employees at any level of a business it may be that they are stressed, distracted and struggling to perform at work. As a result, they may be fatigued and this can affect their concentration. So, if employees’ engagement with their job decreases or they seem unconcerned about outcomes, you may have a problem – and you will need to act.
  2. Businesses who take a whole-of-person approach to health, rapidly can transform a workforce suffering from entrenched presenteeism.
  3. Spending time and effort in really understanding your workforce, recognising there may be a problem and being open to that problem, helping the employee to seek advise and support.
  4. Build a nurturing culture – where employees are not penalised for reporting a health or personal issues. People need to feel confident that they can approach their manager and human resources for support.

The case for improving employee well-being is straightforward, therefore: it saves businesses money. It means fewer people battling with physical or mental health complaints, because they are nurtured and well looked after. It means a more vibrant society, a stronger economy.

By working with Akerberg Thomas to undertake a people audit we can give you a ‘health-check’ which can help to inform where there maybe areas in your business of presenteeism. Once you know this it will help you to make giant strides towards fostering an environment in which every single member of your team has the best opportunity to thrive, develop and grow.