Absenteeism and Presenteeism Are Hurting Your Workplace. Here’s How to Help.

How to Lessen Absenteeism and Increase Presenteeism in the Workplace

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Shivani Banker

The impact of grief in the workplace is not discussed often — much like grief itself. But as we continue to navigate the pandemic and millions grieve the loss of loved ones, two terms related to grief in the workplace have become increasingly important for employers to know and address: absenteeism and presenteeism.

Absenteeism vs. Presenteeism: Similar, But Not the Same

Absenteeism involves an employee being physically absent from work because of unplanned circumstances (e.g., physical or mental illness, challenges at home, disengagement, or grief). Employees are dealing with the circumstances keeping them from work and navigating the frustration, depression, and anxiety that accompany them.

Then comes absenteeism’s scarier sibling: Presenteeism. It happens when team members are physically present at work but not fully there. They’re not functioning at their usual level and might feel mentally absent. Further complicating things, presenteeism can be hard to identify correctly; while absenteeism is obvious, presenteeism tends to be more subtle.

Both presenteeism and absenteeism are concerning on a human level, but they also carry legitimate business impacts. Annually, employers in the U.S. lose more than $1,600 per absent worker. A Harvard Business Review article suggests that episodes of presenteeism can reduce individual productivity by one-third. Though it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly how much money employers lose due to presenteeism, a report by Global Corporate Challenge reveals that most employees admit to about 57.5 days of presenteeism each year, which adds up to approximately $150 billion lost.

These circumstances are sometimes difficult to face, identify, and fix, but addressing them starts with looking at their root causes. And one of the most consequential causes is grief.

Reducing Absenteeism and Presenteeism in the Workplace

Addressing grief-related presenteeism and absenteeism starts with acknowledging grief. It should also include creating spaces for team members experiencing loss and providing them resources as they navigate grief. These efforts are critical today, considering 1 in 3 Americans are suffering from a loss because of the pandemic.

To address grief-related absenteeism and presenteeism directly, use the following steps:

1. Implement a strong bereavement leave policy.

When you give people the time and space they need to mourn, you create the conditions to battle presenteeism. Find a champion in the C-suite and let your employees know how you’ve updated your bereavement policy to best meet their needs when a loss occurs.

If you’re not sure how generous to be, ask colleagues at other companies (while remembering that many companies have outdated and inappropriate policies in place). Some organizations have moved beyond the typical “three days for a close relative’s death” policy. Others allow grief-stricken employees to dictate how they want to spend their time off, such as working half days or working from home. Research suggests that 91% of people feel society expects them to move on from a close loss within 12 months. Although it’s impossible to quantify grief, most who’ve experienced it would argue that three days is not enough.

2. Institute a people-centered general leave policy.

In addition to your employee bereavement policy, consider your PTO policies. Remember to factor in time for COVID-19 quarantines, and stay up to date on state and federal laws pertaining to the pandemic to ensure you’re following guidelines.

Don’t forget to abide by any policies you institute to make sure you’re leading by example. Your people will watch you for signals; take time off work yourself, whether because of an illness, mental health day, or need to grieve. When leadership uses PTO in the same way they expect of employees, they set a precedent and give permission for people to use their benefits.

3. Help employees reduce their stress and anxiety.

Employees are human, which means they will sometimes struggle to move through the stress and emotional burdens that are part of life. Offer them wellness tools designed to promote balance and well-being.

Some businesses pay for team members’ gym memberships or health-related subscriptions. Others offer digital classes and workshops (or even on-site meetings focused on wellness). Gather anonymous feedback from your workers to gauge what would best help them handle the challenges of modern living.

When surveying your team, be sure to ask about bereavement leave directly and include resources related to grief. The way you provide support after a loss allows people to be more present in their grief and other areas of their lives. Employers who offer Lantern for Work can create bereavement policies, provide training on navigating grief in the workplace, offer helpful resources to employees experiencing loss, and give access to life-planning tools.

4. Take a baseline measurement of absenteeism — then work to understand the root cause.

To decrease absences in your organization, you must first understand the state of your company and any bigger issues that might be contributing to absenteeism. Spend the next quarter tracking absenteeism rates, examining them per person and per department. You might see patterns that help you identify potential issues.

Although you can’t track presenteeism, you’ll notice it improve as your culture becomes more employee-focused and empathetic. For example, you might see productivity increase if you allow working parents to follow a hybrid schedule to better juggle their childcare duties.

Above all, be an employer that cares about its people. Absenteeism and presenteeism hurt people and, by proxy, businesses. By making grief in the workplace accepted and understood — rather than taboo — and creating the most supportive environment possible, you’ll create an environment with less absenteeism and presenteeism and more engaged, supported employees.

To learn more about proactively supporting your employees with a holistic bereavement and life-planning benefit, contact our team.

Category: Grief in the Workplace

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