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Help your employees give it their all

The business impacts of presenteeism

When an employee doesn’t show up for work, it makes a mark. In a corporate environment, meetings get rescheduled and deadlines get extended. In a manufacturing company, everyone might have to pitch in a little more to keep things moving. If you own a small business, you may have to close early for the day if you’re not fully staffed.

But what happens when your employees come into work when their minds are elsewhere? Employees who are distracted or otherwise not mentally present can consistently fall behind on their tasks, create safety issues if they work on an assembly line, or lack an ability to deliver the stellar customer service you expect.

It’s called presenteeism — and it’s having an enormous impact on businesses of all shapes and sizes.

How much does presenteeism cost your company?

Researchers say the cost of presenteeism is 10 times higher External Site than its counterpart, absenteeism. That’s because presenteeism is often difficult to pinpoint and there is no one single solution that works for every employee.

“Whatever business you are running, you are dealing with a certain level of presenteeism,” says Amanda Dorr, health and well-being consultant at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “At any given time, only 30 percent of your employees are engaged at work. And if they aren’t focused mentally, they won’t be productive in their roles.”

Any number of factors can cause an employee to be mentally absent, including stress, an illness or a lack of motivation. Whatever the case, researchers estimate that presenteeism cuts individual productivity by one-third or more External Site. In fact, one report External Site found that while employees took four days of sick leave per year, they admitted to being unproductive an average of 57.5 days per year. That’s three months per year in lost productivity.

As a well-being consultant, Dorr works with employers to combat presenteeism. “We know that employees who are engaged are the ones who are going the extra mile,” she says. “They’re excited about the organization’s mission and want to move it forward. They’re not just coming in, doing the bare minimum and leaving.”

Is your workplace impacted by presenteeism? See if you have noticed these telltale signs in your employees:

  • Continually missing deadlines and asking for extensions
  • Decreasing quality of work
  • Withdrawal from any non-necessary conversations or activities
  • Spending a lot of time on their phone
  • Often losing focus or forgetting about tasks
  • Frequently seeming irritable, exhausted or cynical
  • Lack of participation in team meetings or events

The good news? There are concrete ways to reduce presenteeism. “As an employer, you can give your employees the resources to manage all of the things happening outside of work,” says Dana Lemberg, benefit and wellness analyst at Wellmark.

10 ways to engage employees

“When people come into work, it’s not like they have an ‘on’ and ‘off’ switch,” says Lemberg. “They are carrying so much we don’t see. I think of it like an invisible suitcase,” she adds. “Some could have a light load, while others could be carrying a heavy suitcase. As an employer, you can ease the load so they don’t have to carry it with them.” Dorr and Lemberg offer the following tips to engage your employees at the office.

  1. Create a positive culture.

    The first step is to cultivate a culture that values your employees' health. You can learn more about how your employees view your workplace by conducting a culture survey. “Being inclusive and diverse can help make sure everyone’s needs are met,” says Lemberg.
  2. Show that you care.

    Be sure sick leave and vacation policies are well-received by employees, and conduct ergonomic assessments to curb workplace and repetitive injuries. “Also, the more you can express gratitude for your employees and engage them in the various benefits and offerings you have, the healthier and more productive they’ll be," says Lemberg.
  3. Provide professional support.

    It’s important for management to understand each employees’ workload, tasks and goals. If you can, schedule regular meetings with each employee, which goes a long way in helping everyone feel more connected and part of the bigger picture. Also, collaborate with each employee on a personal growth and development plan and provide mentor/mentee programs.
  4. Improve work-life balance.

    If your workplace can accommodate them, flexible work arrangements can go a long way in helping employees manage stress. Consider options for telecommuting, remote work or other alternative work arrangements.
  5. Encourage movement.

    Let your employees know they can take regular, small breaks throughout the day, which can improve concentration and workplace satisfaction levels. “American workers spend so much of their day sitting,” says Lemberg. “Whenever you incorporate frequent movement into your day — whether you have a walking meeting or step away from your desk for a quick workout — it enhances productivity and engagement.”
  6. Support an employee wellness program.

    Want your employees to be healthy? Give them the tools to do so. Provide free or discounted gym memberships, an on-site fitness option or free wellness checks. Nutrition consultations or seminars are also helpful. “Food has a huge impact on productivity,” says Lemberg. “High sugar and processed foods lead to quick energy bursts and crashes. Fresh fruit and vegetables provide a consistent source of energy, and won’t leave employees feeling lethargic, weighed down and ultimately, less productive.”
  7. Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

    With an EAP External Site, employees with personal or work-related problems can access care easily and at no cost. There are several services available through an EAP, including mental health counseling, financial and legal consulting, and help with alcohol and substance abuse. “It can take several weeks or months to get mental health care,” Lemberg says. “EAP can help your employees get care immediately, lightening their mental load and helping them focus more when they’re at work.”
  8. Offer virtual visits.

    With virtual visits, Opens in a new window your employees can see a board-certified doctor via their smartphone, tablet or computer in just minutes. “It’s a great benefit for employees who don’t want to take time from work to drive across town for a doctor’s appointment,” says Dorr. “Virtual doctors can also help with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
  9. Implement a social media policy

    . Encourage employees to disconnect from their phones while they’re at work, without being overly restrictive. “It’s good to be able to have those connections to social media and have immediate connections to friends and family, but at work it is far too distracting and time consuming,” says Lemberg.
  10. Offer financial assistance.

    Research shows that a majority of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. You can help relieve financial stressors by offering student loan repayment, financial services and advisors to help with retirement planning.

Overall, keeping your employees engaged is much more than offering a standard salary and benefit package. By addressing the overall well-being of your employees, you’ll have a happier workforce who performs better and is less absent physically and emotionally.

What if you already have several well-being and assistance programs in place, but are still seeing signs of presenteeism?

“Many employer groups already have programs in place to address various aspects of wellness in the workplace — they just need help getting the information to their employees,” says Dorr. “There may be things you’re already doing that your employees don’t know about; and there may be simple things you can add that could have a great impact."

Looking for ways to improve presenteeism in your workplace?

Wellmark can report on the cost of presenteeism and absenteeism in your workplace, including important data about your employees' physical activity, nutrition, sleep and other health and wellness markers. That’s because we have insights and data on your employees you may not have in-house. Our health and well-being consultants can be your go-to-source for finding the right combination of solutions — because one-size doesn’t fit all.

Interested in learning more about Wellmark’s employer well-being and consulting services? Contact your authorized Wellmark representative or email us at blueatwork@wellmark.com Send Email.