HR Answers: Americans Don’t Take Sick Days (But They Also Don’t Always Work at Work)

sick businessman looking at thermometer
By Jack Skeen, Ph.D.

2 minutes

Leadership coach discusses the issue of “presenteeism” and how managers can safeguard against it.

Forget sick days: Research shows that presenteeism costs business 10 times more than absenteeism. While workers say that they only take 4 sick days a year, they also confess that they spend nearly 58 days a year being idle or unmotivated on the job.

No wonder it is estimated that employers lose $255 dollars in productivity a year per employee due to presenteeism. 

But how can managers and employers reduce this costly problem and make sure that employees are not just physically present, but also engaged in their work?

“Presenteeism” is when an employee is at their desk or their station, but they are not working at full capacity due to being distracted, disengaged or otherwise run-down. It is a costly problem that touches every industry and every company, but thankfully it is one that can be addressed effectively.

Ironically, presenteeism could actually be deceased if employers stop focusing so much on absenteeism.

The workplaces that make it the most difficult for workers to use vacation days or call in sick are the workplaces that will be the most likely to have poorly motivated staff. They come in resentful, overworked and completely unmotivated, whereas offices that encourage a strong work/life balance will have content and energetic workers.

Employers can decrease presenteeism by treating their employees as individuals with important needs and unique talents. When workers feel like they are an invisible and unimportant part of their company, it’s easy for them to start feeling like their job doesn’t matter. 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.

Unclear systems of reward can also be problematic. If an employee sees someone get a raise or a promotion who has not seemed to have logged as many hours, it can be very de-motivating. If workers don’t think that raises and promotions are given out fairly, they won’t see any purpose in giving 100 percent because they won’t believe that their efforts will be rewarded.

Leaders also need to change their point-of-view from thinking “How can I get the most out of my employees?” and instead start thinking “How can I give the most to my employees?” When you change your point of view from one of taking and instead to one of giving, the entire energy of your workplace will change as a result. People will feel seen, valued and empowered, and they will be much more likely to be present and focused when they are on the job.

Jack Skeen, Ph.D., is the founder of Skeen Leadership Group, an executive consulting firm based in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Skeen coaches successful leaders, addressing every imaginable leadership, business, and life issue with wisdom and professionalism. He is the co-author of a new book, The Circle Blueprint: Decoding the Conscious and Unconscious Factors that Determine Your Success. To learn more and take the self-assessment, visit The Circle Blueprint website.

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