How Can You Use Employee Benefits to Eliminate Presenteeism?

It’s easy to understand how an absent employee costs a business. If you’re expecting an individual to be at work, doing work, it creates a distinct gap when they’re not there. Absenteeism is easily identifiable and trackable. Presenteeism, on the other hand, is not.

This issue is more challenging to understand, track, and alleviate than absenteeism. While it may be more difficult control presenteeism, it’s far from impossible. But, before we get to deal with this issue, we first must define it. Below, we’ll define presenteeism, detail its effects, and discuss what your company can do to reduce your presenteeism.


What is Presenteeism?

Presenteeism, according to Employee Benefits Adviser, is the practice of going to work despite illness, injury, or a mental health condition. This practice often leads to negative results such as reduced productivity.  An easy example is an employee coming to work with the flu.

Technically this employee is working but is nowhere near fully functioning. A sick employee can still work, but that work will likely be nowhere near their average level of competence. Employees who are physically or mentally ill, are more likely to simply go through the motions.


What Isn’t Presenteeism?

It’s important to know the definition of presenteeism. But it’s just as important to know what isn’t. Presenteeism doesn’t include when employees exaggerate or fake an illness. Similarly, goofing off at work isn’t considered a form of presenteeism either.


What are the Effects?

Presenteeism often has many adverse effects on your business. These effects range in severity and frequency, but they all have a tangible impact on your company’s bottom line. Increased illness, reduced productivity, increased medical spend, shoddy work, and missed deadlines are all results of presenteeism.

In total, presenteeism costs U.S. employers up to $250 billion annually. This cost represents 60 percent of the total costs of worker illnesses. Additionally, a 2004 study by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found employers lose an average of $255 in productivity per employee every year, due to presenteeism.

A 2018 study by the Global Corporate Challenge detailed similar results. This study found the average employee took about four sick days off per year. But those same employees reported losing far more days due to low productivity. Employees said they lost an average of 57.5 days per year because of low productivity.

The previously mentioned study crystalizes the difference between presenteeism and absenteeism. It may appear your staff is only missing an average of four days. But they’re actually losing an average of 58 days! The Harvard Business Review  (HBR) echoes these claims of loss of individual productivity.

According to HBR, presenteeism can cut individual productivity by one-third or more. The HBR goes on to confirm presenteeism is far costlier than illness-related absenteeism or disability. In fact, two studies from the Journal of the American Medical Association, back-up these claims.

According to these studies, on-the-job productivity losses resulting from depression and pain was roughly three times greater than the absence related productivity loss attributed to the conditions. Additional studies have shown this issue costs employers two to three times more than direct medical care for these illnesses.


What Can You Do?

Like any employment issue, there is a multitude of ways your organization can combat presenteeism. One of the best tools to deal with this issue is your employee benefits package. Your company’s employee benefits are the first line of defense for this concern. Here are the employee benefits that can be used to reduce your staff’s presenteeism.


1. Wellness Program

Many employers believe wellness programs are ineffective and don’t drive ROI. But this belief may exist because their wellness programs aren’t targeting the right issues. If you use your wellness program to target issues like presenteeism, you’ll experience tangible ROI.

Your wellness plan can help employees focus on and improve their physical and mental health. Including medical management services can go a long way towards diagnosing and treating employee illness. Employees with an undiagnosed health issue will experience high levels of presenteeism unless treated.


Also, make sure your program includes financial wellness benefits. A person’s finances often affect the rest of their life more than they realize. Financial stress, according to a 2017 study by the American Psychological Association, affects 62 percent of Americans. This financial stress can wreak havoc on an employee’s health and productivity, which directly contributes to presenteeism.


2. PTO

PTO, or paid time off, is a combination of sick leave and vacation time in one bank of time off. Under a PTO system, your staff has more flexibility to choose when and why they take time off. Employees dealing with a chronic or extended illness can use their PTO to avoid going to work while sick.

The increased freedom PTO gives your staff is also helpful for treating whatever ails them. PTO allows your employees to go to appointments and take time off to rest before they get sick. If your team members can manage their illnesses before they worsen, it will go a long way towards improving presenteeism.


3. Health Insurance

Chances are you probably already know health insurance is an essential benefit to your staff. Well, it’s also an important benefit for reducing presenteeism. But it’s crucial you have the right type and level of coverage.

So, rather than looking at your health coverage as a business expense, view it as an investment instead. Including preventative care in your coverage is imperative for affecting presenteeism. The more quickly your staff can understand their medical conditions, the faster they can treat them.

Similarly, it’s crucial your health insurance includes mental health benefits. Services such as outpatient treatment, telemedicine, and counseling are critical for treating mental health issues. A benefit such as telemedicine is essential when dealing with as sensitive a subject as mental health.


4. Employee Education

Employee education is a necessary benefit in the fight to end presenteeism in your workforce. Your staff needs to understand how coming to work while ill, often carries negative results. Hosting seminars, educational lunches, and including information in your onboarding materials and intra-company communications are all examples of good employee education actions.


5. Flexible Work

Like PTO, flexible work gives your staff more…flexibility (What else could it be?). Flexible work allows employees to choose where, when, and the number of hours they work. With flexible work options, your team members can work around any health conditions they may have, thereby reducing presenteeism.


6. Managerial Training

Your managers need to be included in any employee education plan your company implements. Still, their education should extend beyond what non-managerial employees receive. Every leader in your organization should be able to define presenteeism and the ways it affects your business.

Each manager should understand how their personal behavior can affect presenteeism throughout your firm. Some supervisors, for example, unknowingly encourage presenteeism by praising employees who come to work sick. Train your leadership team to recognize signs of presenteeism and handle it effectively.


7. Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

The final benefit used to fight presenteeism is an employee assistance program. An EAP is a work-based intervention program designed to identify and assist employees in resolving personal issues. Due to the sensitive topics discussed, EAPs are generally run by a third-party administrator (TPA).

But, because the price of even the highest cost vendor is low, it’s important to take your time and select the right provider to partner with your firm. The TPA you partner with needs to understand your objectives and work with your business to accomplish them. So, when deciding on the correct EAP provider, ensure they know reducing presenteeism is one of your company’s goals.


The Wrap

Presenteeism, despite it’s concealed nature, is likely having a sizable impact on your business right now. Sick or distracted employees are coming to work every day, and your company’s productivity is suffering as a result. Use the highlighted benefits to make a present out of the lump of coal that is presenteeism.