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Workplace presenteeism rate is growing – and now going digital

Academic have claimed presenteeism isn't just about showing up in the office any more - it's going digital. Picture: Lauren Hurley/PA Wire

Academic have claimed presenteeism isn't just about showing up in the office any more - it's going digital. Picture: Lauren Hurley/PA Wire

The plague of “presenteeism” in workplaces is growing, new figures show – and could even now be spreading into the digital sphere.

An increase in the number of people working from home – and being connected digitally to their managers – has contributed to a rising anxiety around being seen to be working, even outside office hours, according an East Anglian academic who has studied the phenomenon.

It comes as the Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD) revealed the scale of the UK’s “shocking” presenteeism problem and its negative impact on the economy.

Research by the organisation found the number of companies reporting staff turning up to work when they are ill has tripled since 2010, while more than two thirds (69%) reported that staff were working while on annual leave.

Dr Tom Vine, senior lecturer at Suffolk Business School at the University of Suffolk, said presenteeism – like many other phenomena – was going digital, with answering work-related emails and calls late into the night becoming more important as a measure of commitment than keeping office hours.

“Historically, presenteeism has been very tangible. In the 80s and 90s gents used to take two jackets to work, one to wear and one to leave on the back of their chair as an indication to the boss that they were arriving early or staying late,” Dr Vine said.

“The culture has changed in that many people work remotely, so it has gone online. Many of us, particularly white-collar workers, feel a compulsion to answer emails instantly to reassure our boss that although we are not in the office, we are working.”

Dr Vine said research had shown home working often results in better productivity – but that “eroding the barrier” between work and domestic life could be damaging for workers.

Mark Burns is workplace health manager at Thriving Workplaces, which has been commissioned by Norfolk County Council to provide “healthy workplace” advice to businesses.

He said: “Presenteeism can occur in every sector at every level in an organisation – from managers burning out from working long hours, to production workers battling on when unwell.

“Having a culture of expecting people to work through illness may have a short-term benefit for an employer, but long term it will seriously hinder productivity, retention and recruitment and the reputation of their business.”


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