Is ‘presenteeism’ a
sign of oncoming
workplace stress?

The average employee is said to work only 3 hours out of every 8, with a proportion of the working day taken up by distractions – over-long meetings, catching up with colleagues, complaining about customers, discussing last night’s Netflix…


..and staring unproductively at screens – the so-called ‘presenteeism’ afflicting the 21st century workplace and costing the UK economy around £15.1bn a year.

But what if that inactivity is a symptom of a wider issue?

April is always marked as National Stress Awareness month. It may come as no surprise that the Stroke Association charity has recently named recruitment as the most stressful sector, with almost 82% of consultants reporting they suffer from chronic stress and fatigue at work – mainly because they struggle to find enough candidates to fill their company’s roles.

Meanwhile the ONS has announced this week that unemployment has fallen yet again, with employment figures remaining buoyant; so the competition for talent shows no sign of letting up for the time being.

This presenteeism is an expensive drain on the economy, and potentially on your business. But it could also be an indicator of early mental health issues in the workplace that might need to be addressed. Brits are notorious for working long hours, longer than any in Europe – but less productively. An engaged team is hugely more productive, and much more motivated to stay long-term. Whereas team members in the room who are not actually getting much done are far more likely to drift away – emotionally as well as physically.

A recent survey of 2,000 UK employees found that 90% of them have been affected, directly or indirectly, by mental health issues. And that almost two-thirds don’t tell anyone else about it. So tackling issues before they become serious and affect the entire workplace should become a priority.

If this is something you recognise in your own business, and realise that presenteeism is one symptom of possible future mental health issues, you’re at least part-way to putting that right. There’s no quick fix. But there are lots of individual actions any workplace can start taking now – here are just a few to start you off.


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