Written by: Mark Donohue, CEO of LifeGuides and
How would your productivity change if you were caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease or going through a divorce? While you might be physically present at work, you’d probably be less effective.
Each year, we lose an estimated 57.5 days per employee to presenteeism, when they come to work while suffering illness, grief or stress, according to a Virgin Pulse report. In the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom combined, companies lose an estimated $1,500 billion a year as a result, making presenteeism 10 times more costly than absenteeism.
When our ancestors lived in villages, they faced challenges together. Today, we are less likely to know our neighbors or have a support community.
We need to get back to a village perspective and values, beginning with where we spend much of our lives: the workplace. This encourages companies to support employees through life challenges and create a culture of caring, which can reduce presenteeism and strengthen retention, focus and creativity.
Here is what employers should keep in mind.
1. Unseen issues can have a visible impact.
Presenteeism can stem from challenges ranging from caring for a loved one to facing unexpected expenses. Though seemingly unrelated to work, they drain employees’ energy, vitality and creativity, which impacts your bottom line.
Employees are our most important stakeholders. If they’re unhappy, customers notice. Yet the workplace intensifies these problems, with 80% of workers saying they feel stress on the job, according to the American Institute of Stress. We must support employees to counterbalance normal work-related stress.
2. Perks don’t create culture.
Culture is a huge driver of success. It’s especially important for attracting and retaining employees, a top concern among business leaders in the face of today’s disruption and talent shortage.
While innovative benefits like onsite cafeterias and modern office spaces can improve employees’ quality of life at work, they don’t define culture or address the issues behind presenteeism.
Impactful culture is more than fancy perks; it shifts organizational behavior and thinking. Ask yourself: Do your leaders care for their team? Are employees fulfilled, engaged and inspired? Do they support and challenge one another?
3. Purpose should be your North Star.
Motivating employees around a common purpose raises engagement, unifies teams and builds resilience, according to a Global Leadership Forecast. After all, corporations are fundamentally communities unified under a shared capitalist purpose. Those with a compelling purpose statement outperform others by over 40%. When employees feel they have an important and appreciated role in manifesting that purpose, satisfaction and motivation increase.
Purpose serves as a North Star when things get tough. Beyond organizational purpose, help employees identify their own purpose by training them on topics like self-awareness, creativity and personal growth. Community service projects also give employees purpose and fulfillment and strengthen intercompany relationships.
4. Walk your talk.
When leaders weave purpose into their decisions and behavior, company financial performance jumps by 42%, according to a Global Leadership Forecast report. Actions speak louder than words. Walk the factory floor and listen to employees. Incorporate personal check-ins into staff meetings.
It can be difficult to ask for help, which is why psychological safety is key in cultures that mimic the village mentality. Leadership must show vulnerability so employees have permission to do the same. Don’t penalize employees for sharing personal issues, and don’t force them to either. This creates trust and loyalty.
5. The sharing economy offers more than just products.
Peer-to-peer education is an emerging megatrend. With an inadequate support system, challenges are overwhelming. Our ancestors had regular access to wisdom from their elders and neighbors — and we can recreate that. The sharing economy that brought us products like Uber and Airbnb can also connect us to others with relevant knowledge and skills via platforms that share life wisdom and experience.
Recreate this village mentality with a mentoring or peer-support program, which can build a sense of empowerment, control and hope — and even decrease hospital admissions.
Develop community by hosting team-building and appreciation events. Celebrate those who embody the company’s values and reward cultural impact.
6. Technology can create connection.
Technology can help facilitate connections. For example, sites like MicroMentor connect you to business mentors, and there are numerous online therapy and talk therapy providers.
Sites like Perks at Work and Zestful offer employee discounts on everything from health to travel to educational purchases. Taking advantage of tools like these can improve culture and life efficiency.
7. Health insurance isn’t enough.
The best health assistance programs offer assessments, education and mental health coverage. Insurance often covers only diagnosable medical conditions; so supplement it with benefits like mindfulness training. Offer coaches to help with life transitions, fitness and nutrition, yet a coaching benefit can be pricey. Cognitive assessments and training can teach employees to notice when they or a co-worker need support.
To reduce stress, give employees autonomy over where and when they work. Some companies, like the Motley Fool, offer unlimited sick and vacation days. Others adhere to 40-hour work weeks to avoid burnout or allow dogs in the office to reduce stress. Consider expanding parental leave and offering childcare support as well.
Employers can learn more at human resources conferences, like the Perks Convention, which we sponsor, that showcase perks beyond basic benefits. Similarly, events like Culture Summit teach actionable tips to leaders to improve their employees’ work experiences.
8. Soft skills are the secret sauce.
Fewer than 40 percent of employees say their employer provides sufficient resources to help manage their stress, according to an American Psychological Association report. Offer training on soft skills like time and stress management, problem-solving, teamwork and communicating with empathy.
Soft skills training increases productivity, which is one of the reasons this is a priority for talent development teams today. Peer-to-peer education and guidance can help your team be more resilient.
9. Focus on financial support.
More than half of employees suffer from financial stress, and nearly half spend at least three hours a week considering or dealing with resulting issues at work. Provide financial education and advisors who can help them understand and use their benefits.
Half of Americans don’t have enough cash to cover a $400 expense. Consider offering a resource like PayActiv, which gives employees early access to paychecks they’ve earned. This reduces the cost of overdraft fees for any employees living paycheck to paycheck.
10. Notice the signs of life challenges.
To truly address presenteeism, connect with employees so you can spot changes in their behavior. Pay attention if someone seems fatigued, starts arriving late or leaving early, or becomes less engaged or productive. Wise leaders don’t just evaluate outputs; they listen and understand their team.
11. It’s an investment, not an expense.
Before taking action, survey your team to understand their challenges and what would be meaningful to them. Then continuously reassess how you can best support each other. After all, it takes a village.
The World Health Organization’s Health and Work Performance Questionnaire helps measure the returns on investments in employee well-being. Don’t look at employee well-being as a cost; consider it an investment in the health and productivity of your business. Dare to do more and lead with deeper wisdom, as we did in villages in the days of old.