Read: Presenteeism not Absenteeism

Sandy Gibbs - Tribe

Introducing Sandy Gibbs – People & Culture Recruitment Lead


Our People & Culture Recruitment Lead Sandy Gibbs joined our Tribe earlier this year. Sandy has spent the last 20+ years in the recruitment industry and has both General Management and Brand Management experience in New Zealand and Australia. She has vast knowledge and provides an interesting perspective, so each month Sandy will write a feature for Tribe Talks on key trends and topics impacting the workplace.

This month we’re talking about Presenteeism. Over to you Sandy…

‘Presenteeism’ and the cost to your organisation

And we all thought absenteeism was a problem!!

We know how hard it can be to get out of bed on a chilly morning, more so if you are feeling less than ideal. However, more often than not, employees are choosing to go to work. Whether it’s a dedication to the job or fear of increasing workloads, here’s why going to work sick or disengaged, isn’t going to help any organisation or an employee’s career.

Presenteeism is when an employee is physically at work yet not productive. We’ve all seen it and experienced it. You’ve powered through the day on a half tank struggling to focus. Why we do it is often related to who we are and how we feel about our job. Whilst this dedication may be seen as exceptional organisational citizenship; the cost to business can be huge.

In 2018, the average number of days of absence per employee was 4.7 in New Zealand according to the Southern Cross Health and BusinessNZ 2019 workplace survey. But when compared with how many days were lost because of presenteeism to the business, that number shot up more than 10 times to a staggering 57.5 days per year! That’s close to 12 working weeks! Presenteeism costs the US $1500 billion every year.

Workplace Wellness Report 2019

Workplace Wellness Report 2019, Southern Cross Health and BusinessNZ

Presenteeism is something I’ve experienced firsthand. When I was working as a General Manager for a recruitment agency in Canberra, I noticed there was a shift in energy and our employees were becoming less engaged. Life and workloads were getting on top of people and this was affecting their ability to perform. I went to a HR event and one of the speakers was talking about presenteeism and how…. That’s when I really sat back and thought something needed to change.

Many businesses have such a narrow focus on absenteeism - a key performance measure often implemented organisation-wide; that presenteeism is missed altogether. To identify presenteeism, it requires managers and team leaders to be well-tuned to their staff and individual’s behaviours. Quite often managers become so caught up in day-to-day operations they fail to see the subtle cues displayed by employees, thereby missing the symptoms and causes of presenteeism.

So what can be done to combat presenteeism?

A simple place to start is to focus less on the number of days employees are absent and instead turn your attention to the overall wellbeing of your employees who are there, output versus input, as well as energy levels at work. Have clear measures and know what your business expectations looks like. If output capability for individuals is not known, how do you know when productivity is down? This is when the business needs to be responding to, and supporting, that employee.

From a well-being perspective, consider “sanity days” - this is something I championed in my Branch Management role. It involved giving staff one paid day a quarter for them to get those little personal chores done which mount up, or just a day to do nothing. This isn’t added to annual leave or long weekends, it’s a day for the individual – just ‘to be’. We see everyone 100% refreshed after taking them. Think about it – an investment of four days versus multiple unproductive ones makes good commercial sense.

“Sanity days” worked for my business but there are of course other ways to engage your employees. It comes down to knowing your people.

Ask yourself: Is presenteeism an issue in your organisation?

Why are your employees feeling disconnected?

Is it due to poor leadership?

Do they have excessive workloads?

What about wellbeing?

Have you created a culture where it’s okay to be vulnerable?

Want to find out more about People & Culture Recruitment at Tribe?

Get in touch with Sandy Gibbs

+64 27 583 741


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