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How Presenteeism Can Kill Your Business

| May 11, 2012 | 5 Comments

You’ve just returned from an extended lunch when your co-workers stop by your desk to see what your plans are for the weekend. After talking to them for fifteen minutes, you decide to check some personal emails and head to the break room for coffee. You check the clock. “Only 104 more minutes at the office today,” you think to yourself. “Almost there.”

You are clearly suffering from presenteeism.

Presenteeism: what is it? It’s the common exercise of physically showing up for work and forgetting to tell anyone that you actually quit working. A lot of routine behaviors tell everyone what you’re up to: your lengthy card games with co-workers, your fifth viewing of that YouTube video, skipping out fifteen minutes early. These are all telltale signs that you have mentally checked out, and your office or business is suffering because of it.

While it can be easily dismissed as laziness, a closer look reveals that office dynamics and poor leadership are the major causes of this apathy. Most people who suffer from this growing epidemic feel stuck in their current roles and don’t know how to ask for help from their leaders or co-workers. The solutions to combating presenteeism require a thorough analysis of your office’s leadership, as well as some guided self-reflection. Presenteeism happens to each of us from time to time. It is up to you, however, to recognize when it occurs and seek help to pull you out of the downward spiral.

What Causes Presenteeism?

Social Frames

Unfortunately, from our first days of kindergarten, we are indirectly taught that attendance constitutes as participation. Showing up is just a physical act. It is not an act of engagement. As young students, we knew we couldn’t get fired from school. We could be engaged in the learning process or drift through, but, ultimately, it was our choice. That attitude can still plague adults’ thinking about their daily routines. However, that logic does not, and should not, hold true for Corporate America. You have to earn your place by being engaged, energized, empowered, and educated. By settling for a “here I am” mindset, you aren’t effectively serving or leading your peers and clients.

Lack of Positive and Dynamic Leadership

Just as a great teacher can motivate a student, an effective leader is needed to bolster a team’s drive and confidence. Many workers spend a good deal of their workdays complaining about their bosses rather than doing their jobs. Office leaders are easy targets and, sometimes, they deserve the criticism. I personally waited for years for that great leader to show up – someone who would inspire me, motivate me, mentor me, and have my back at every twist and turn.

Are you still waiting for that leader? Truly great leaders with those qualities are few and far between. Many business leaders have heartily embraced the age of conference calls and emails with relish. They can keep a comfortable distance from their co-workers and deal with issues remotely.

Even in the age of light-speed technology, a leader must be part of the team. Those closed doors and lack of inspiration are really the leader’s version of presenteeism. Workers look to their leaders to lead by example, and when they see their leader showing up physically but shutting down mentally, they follow suit. If you’re a leader and find that presenteeism is invading your mindset, be proactive in combatting it so it doesn’t spread to your employees. In fact, it might be time to evaluate this condition as a whole team. If your work environment is dominated by finger-pointing and a lack of desire to go beyond the call of duty, then your office dynamic is in need of attention.

Defeating Presenteeism

The key to stopping this toxic environment is accountability at a professional and personal level. Taking accountability requires strength. Employees with presenteeism often feel out of control and lack the confidence to perform their tasks effectively. The problem-solving process should begin with intellectual honesty about whether or not you have done your personal best in the workplace. Do you make excuses? Do you zone out for large portions of the day? How can you change your bad habits? Start small with a “to-do” list at the beginning of each day. Prioritize tasks by level of importance, as well as the time frames in which you need to accomplish those tasks. Breaking the day down into manageable tasks can help motivate and focus your time, as well as help you avoid the overwhelmed feeling that can lead to apathy.

An accountability partner within the workspace aids greatly in keeping on task and creating open paths of communication. All employees, even leaders, can benefit from the input and actions of a partner. If there’s an issue or crisis that truly does need to be addressed, then you have someone you can plan with and receive feedback from immediately.

Seeking opportunities to further your expertise is another way to successfully eliminate presenteeism. Ask your boss if you can attend local workshops or classes that you feel would empower you in the workplace, and provide practical training and boosted confidence and interest in your field. When you commit to learning, you commit to your future.

Everyone has “off” days and can feel overwhelmed at times. It’s important that you, as a person and an employee, see the unique skills and talents that you bring to the workplace. When you work to feel empowered, you naturally want to take the extra step in every aspect of your life. Presenteeism, and the apathy it feeds, takes away those positive qualities. Only when you feel in control and inspired can you act out of confidence and not crisis.

Author and speaker Wendy Komac is a long-time turnaround specialist that has helped save companies by focusing on changing underperformers to exceptional workers. She is the author of I Work with Crabby Crappy People, a humorous and highly informative book about achieving happiness and success.

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  • Mthura Buwa

    This article has been of great benefit to me as I feel I am going through prenteeism right now. Apathy leads to contempt and hatred for a co-worker, employer or a chosen career. It is true that leadership, dynamic and inspiring leadership is what most “present” employees need.

    This was truly a good read. Thanks.

  • Mthura Buwa

    This article has been of great benefit to me as I feel I am going through prenteeism right now. Apathy leads to contempt and hatred for a co-worker, employer or a chosen career. It is true that leadership, dynamic and inspiring leadership is what most “present” employees need.

    This was truly a good read. Thanks.

  • Mthura Buwa

    This article has been of great benefit to me as I feel I am going through prenteeism right now. Apathy leads to contempt and hatred for a co-worker, employer or a chosen career. It is true that leadership, dynamic and inspiring leadership is what most “present” employees need.

    This was truly a good read. Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/clevergareth Gareth

    interesting take on the issue – I’ve always seen presenteeism more as one of turning up to work when sick, not necessarily when demotivated (e.g. http://www.corporatehealth.co.uk/blog/corporate_health/sickness-at-work-infographic/) but this is an equal problem for businesses that requires a wholly different approach – as you say, leadership is the key. If you don’t inspire, you shouldn’t be a leader.

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