The dangers of a Presenteeism culture

The concept of presenteeism at work is a problem for employers, and now is considered to cover two issues that both result in the cost to organisations of poor mental health and well-being of their employees.

One aspect is people continuing to work when ill through fear of putting job security in danger. Figures estimate that the cost of employees attending work even though they are unwell and unable to perform at their best is £15.1 billion per year for UK employers.

The second is a growing expectation that employees will work longer hours than they are contracted for in a bid to improve their career prospects. A study from technology provider Ricoh found that 67% of employees aged 18-26 had exaggerated the extent of their workload in the hope of receiving positive feedback from managers. When questioned, 41 per cent said they felt bosses favoured those who worked beyond their contracted hours.

Ricoh suggested that alongside the fear of putting their job security in danger, new drivers such as high youth unemployment, managerial pressure and economic uncertainty have widened the definition and created a culture of fear.

Stress related absence is high and to overcome this the challenge is to create a work culture in which people are managed by praise and reward rather than fault-finding, and where they are trusted to work more flexibly and have better balance in their lives.

Provision, criterion or practice

A recent Employment Appeal Tribunal decisions highlights the problem. A disabled worker won his case for constructive unfair dismissal after he had been unable to comply with the expectations of his employer that he would consistently work late at the end of the contracted day. In this case the longer working hours were deemed to be a ‘provision, criterion or practice’ (PCP) operating in the employer’s workplace, which placed the disabled worker at a disadvantage. The employer had not made the required ‘reasonable adjustments’ for him.

Although this relates to disability, the key finding seems to be that expectations and culture can be established as a legal argument. Is your organisation’s culture putting your employees’ well-being at risk?


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