May 1, 2008

Presenteeism: Clear and Present Danger!


‘Body-present, mind-absent?’ – remember that school-day reprimand from that strict class teacher? Well, even if you don’t, you could probably look around your workplace to understand what exactly that means. In most offices, you will invariably find someone or the other who is “feeling down” with either a headache, a stomach disorder, grogginess or just feeling out of sync with the rest of the world. Outwardly, everything seems fine, but give them a chance to speak to them, and you’ll hear it all. Welcome to the world of a growing breed of professionals – the sort of who are present in office, but not at work! Of course, there is the other type, who’d rather not see the workplace (that could worsen their present condition!), and take a day off at the drop of a hat ;-). The trend of presenteeism is sweeping over India Inc.

Well, nothing to be surprised a great deal about, ‘cos it’s a global phenomenon, and it’s plaguing countries all over Europe and other western countries. But, what’s concerning is that while absenteeism can be easily identified from attendance records, “presenteeism” is not easily discernible. Keeping the differences aside awhile, the point to be driven home is that: In both cases, productivity at the work-places gets drained – visibly in case of absenteeism, invisibly otherwise. Traditionally, absenteeism and such related behaviours are seen as indicators for reduced employee morale and low motivation.

While absenteeism may be dealt with by placing an attendance policy in place, the solution for presenteeism ain’t that simple a formula. A greater problem on that front yet unaddressed is that managers are not ready to probe into the details, and just dismiss them. One of my friends from HR fraternity, Sanjeev Sharma, Zonal Manager, i-Process Services (India) Limited, feels that the reasons for presenteeism can be “stress at work, relationship with the boss, relationship with colleagues, noisy workplace, family problems... and sometimes there are genuine reasons like accidents, sickness etc.”

However, organizations need to become sensitive to employees’ work-life balance and deal with stress and health issues at the workplace.
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