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Wake up to the risks of e-presenteeism

Updated: Sep 6, 2020

First came absenteeism, defined as the habit of taking time off work for no good reason. Then came presenteeism, the counter concept - if you will - of showing up to work despite poor health or exhaustion. 

Both can be hugely damaging for productivity and workplace morale, and there’s ample evidence that the latter can pose serious risks to physical and mental health, but it's a new third concept that we should be focusing on for now: e-presenteeism. 

According to research recently conducted  by LinkedIn in conjunction with the Mental Health Foundation, around 80% of HR managers are concerned that working from home as a result of coronavirus lockdowns and social distancing rules has encouraged employees to feel pressured into being always available to their bosses.

And the data stacks up. LinkedIn found that those working from home are on average clocking an extra 28 hours of monthly overtime which equates to almost four working days. 

Three quarters of the HR managers surveyed said that they felt this was having a detrimental effect on workers’ health and putting individuals at risk of developing anxiety and burning out. 

The findings provide worrying evidence of the substantial work-related strain individuals might be putting on their mental wellbeing at an already immensely challenging time. It also underscores the need for managers to tune into their workforces and appreciate that supporting their teams is a corporate imperative: stressed workers are less motivated workers and that will no doubt take its toll on productivity which has a direct bearing on the bottom line. 

As a manager, there’s no failsafe way of tackling e-presenteeism, but creating a set of basic rules might diminish the chance of an employee feeling pressured to be “always on” - even if they don’t know it.

Working from home has already blurred the lines between the personal and the professional in a way that can be tough to manage, so why not implement allocated lunch or coffee breaks when company calls or emails are put on hold?

As a boss, it might be easy to forget that some employees still wait for an explicit cue to stop working in the evenings. In the office that might happen without anyone thinking about it - perhaps the most senior person on the floor leaving implicitly signals that it's ok for others to do the same - but when we’re all toiling away in splendid isolation it can be much more complex than that.

Liberal management styles that allow for employee autonomy and independence can be great in some situations but they should be used with caution. A more hands-on approach can be a magic bullet when teams are suddenly forced to operate in a wholly unconventional way. When routines are upended and working patterns are radically changed, guidance from a leader can make the difference between losing perspective and staying in calm control.

It’s much harder to follow your own advice to take a break than it is to follow somebody else’s - particularly if that somebody else happens to be your boss. So if you manage even just one person, consider what simple actions you can take to help somebody. Setting a positive example, introducing forced time for rest and recovery, and being acutely aware of any unnecessary overtime are small steps that may make a massive difference.

Josie Cox For Workculturati

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