There are a variety of reasons why people feel they can’t bring their ‘true selves’ into the workplace, and it’s affecting productivity and talent retention, argues Matt Jenkins
Many are familiar with the phrase ‘presenteeism’ as those who come into work even if they’re unwell. From coughs and colds to burnout and illnesses, those who travel to work are likely to be less engaged and more distracted. Research by Vitality and reported by the BBC in June of this year reported that 83% of workers said presenteeism existed in their workplace. A quarter said it had become worse over the past year.
There’s no doubt that presenteeism is a growing threat to businesses around the world.
However, there’s a whole new category of presenteeism that needs to be considered. This is the idea that individuals feel they are unable to bring their true selves to the workplace, whether it’s their outgoing or introverted personalities, their sexual orientation, or true expression of their race and culture.
Last year’s report from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) revealed that black African and black Caribbean graduates were 6.3 and 7.9 percentage points less likely to be content in their work than white graduates. This is in addition to a CIPD study that found that LGBT+ employees were more likely to experience workplace conflict and harassment than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts.
Wellbeing and presenteeism
Because of this, many professionals across the workplace are withholding a part of themselves, which in turn inhibits their happiness and productivity at work. This includes not revealing their sexuality in the workplace, feeling more comfortable with their cameras off on virtual calls, and purposefully dressing more conservatively to hide their race or identity.
Similarly to those coming into work while they’re unwell, these disengaged employees are not thriving. The impact this has in businesses can include increased churn, reduced productivity, and lower employee satisfaction. Ultimately, this results in employees being unable to thrive and businesses not facilitating and encouraging a truly inclusive culture.
So, what can organisations do to reduce presenteeism and empower their employees?
Spot patterns and trends
Businesses have a multitude of people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, gender identities and sexualities. And, with business leaders and HR teams very busy, it’s easy to miss trends and patterns that show someone is unhappy or withholding a part of themselves at work. There are many signs to look out for – it’s just the case of actually looking for them. Is someone taking a lot of time off that could be related to burnout or avoiding work? Do some of your team members avoid coming into the office or call in sick during days they’re meant to be in? Is there a team member that often doesn’t like appearing on video during virtual calls? A lack of visibility can correlate with an attempt to hide themselves from both the workplace and their colleagues.
Finding the roots of absenteeism can equally combat presenteeism in the workplace.
Technology can play a part when it comes to combating this, especially when it comes to absence. For example, with real-time absence alerts and keeping an eye on absence and sickness trends, HR teams can identify issues before they become a problem. Finding the roots of absenteeism can equally combat presenteeism in the workplace. By understanding where issues may lie, HR teams can talk to the individuals and put processes in place that make them more comfortable and happier.
Know your people’s limits
The pandemic has revolutionised the way organisations work, and those who thought remote working could never be a full-time way to run a business are now shutting down their offices and encouraging employees to be remote all of the time.
This business reset provides an opportunity for organisations to implement new HR initiatives that foster an inclusive and safe environment for all employees. For example, just as HR teams should encourage employees to take absences to recover from sickness or burnout, they also need to be putting equity, diversity and inclusion processes in place to encourage employees to embrace differences.
However, diversity and inclusion are not the same thing. Inclusion can attract diverse talent, but diversity alone does not lead to inclusion. By listening to employees and changing HR processes so that they make employees from all walks of life more comfortable, this will ultimately lead to better productivity and retention in the workplace.
Taking a new approach to presenteeism
Although not all business initiatives should be conducted in a top-down approach, business leaders and executive teams need to drive and focus on fostering an inclusive and safe environment for all.
Companies lose billions because of absenteeism in the workplace, yet presenteeism isn’t always seen with the same urgency. Unhappy and dissatisfied employees lead to reduced output and limited engagement, and absence and presenteeism should be much higher up on the business agenda than it currently is. Making sure that all employees are present as their true selves is a surefire way to foster a truly inclusive culture.
Redefining presenteeism should be high on the agendas for businesses attempting to foster a diverse and inclusive culture within their business. For a long time employees have wanted to work for companies that care. The past 19 months have forced the issue, and now that many businesses are set on tackling cultural issues within their organisation, if companies don’t follow suit then these people will leave for those that are challenging the conventional norm, and those that are offering working cultures that demonstrate a human touch and an environment of inclusivity.
Identifying there is an issue in the first place is where businesses can start. Utilising data to pinpoint areas of concern will lead to honest conversations and ultimately solutions to issues of presenteeism in the workplace.