Workplace Fundamentals: Presenteeism

Dr. Purushothaman
December 5, 2013

You know what’s worse than absenteeism? Presenteeism: People turning up, being paid, and not engaging in their work, and even worse, deliberately being destructive. There was a Gallup survey done of the ASX 500. In this survey they found that 80% of people were turning up to work and just going through the motions. They were just not engaged; 20% were engaged and the other 80% going through the motions.

However, when they broke that 80% down, they actually found that 62% fit into the humdrum category: not really engaged, I’ll go through the motions, do what I’ve got to do to get by, fine. But there was 18% that were proactively mad at the organization and were deliberately doing things to be destructive and to hinder the organization, 18%. They’re being paid. They’re on the clock. So that’s far worse than absenteeism because it would be better if they didn’t come because at least they’re not damaging the process.

So, how do you address this? Well, what we really want is we ideally would love to have 100% of people on the game, where I always say with many of the athletes I coach: You’re on the blocks. Say there are eight people in a race. Not all of them are actually planning on winning the race. Some of them are just stoked to be there. It’s an actual fact that only two or three are really thinking they’re a chance for the win. But when you’ve got a whole field of people that all reckon they’ve got a chance to have a win and are all having a crack, that is a cracking race. The whole world stops to watch one of those. That’s the kind of organisation we want.

So how do we do that? What we start to do is we have to start to show people how to be successful and make sure that, one, they’ve got a skill to be successful, but two, we are not putting anything in their way that stops them, that hinders them. So in that regard, we’ve got to make sure that we as management aren’t doing anything that’s giving them fuel. We’re not-not following through on our promises. We’re not delivering a work space that aggravates them. We’re not creating relationships inside the workplace that are destructive. We’re looking after their wellness.

But in the other regard, we’ve got to make sure that we have a long-term plan to explain and teach and train people in the way that we want them to conduct themselves instead. Now, too often people do a launch of a culture. They’ll go, “This is how we’re going to do it. We’re starting today, and from now on.” But you’re yelling about the people down at the bottom. They’re hindering it in stealth ways that you can’t keep them accountable to.

So the better approach to create this new culture to reteach people is to come up with a 12-month to two-year plan with an awareness of what issues have to be addressed and have a clear timeline of which things we addressed in which week, in which month, and roll it out. So you don’t get distracted, you go, first, we’re going to take out this issue. Then we’re going to move to this issue and then this issue, and we’re going to work through them.

There’s an intelligent approach that needs to be applied to that, but in its essence that’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to stop giving them fuel to be destructive, and then you’ve got to start teaching your entire organisation over a period of time of how we want you to be instead. That is where you start to address the issue of presenteeism, which is far worse than absenteeism.
About the Author

Mark Dobson is a motivation expert. Working with Workplace Incentives to promote key thinking and methods that should be considered to make work more rewarding. What is worse than Absenteeism? Presenteeism.

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