Sleep at work

There’s a lot in the news about the dangers of presenteeism. But, as Polly Allen from Inspiring Interns points out, little seems to be being done about it. Wondering why that is? Read on.


Presenteeism can result in in employees being reluctant to take time off, risking burnout or – in the case of illness – risking contagious office bugs. But why don’t we see this issue being solved across the board? How are we failing to create a healthier workplace culture that doesn’t penalise normal absences?

We haven’t learned enough from damaging media examples of presenteeism

When Hillary Clinton famously carried on working after a pneumonia diagnosis in September 2016, she was facing some uniquely high-profile pressure: namely, running for President of the USA. But her refusal to rest, and her fear of letting people down, backfired: there was media and political speculation that she had a serious long-term illness.

Had she decided to come clean straight away, and reveal she was taking antibiotics for a short-term illness, there would have been much less fuss and intrusion. Both employers and employees need to realise that being honest about your illness – not necessarily to the whole world, but to your manager and HR department – is better than inviting speculation.

Intimidating managers still threaten vulnerable workers

This reader letter sent to Forbes says it all: some managers expect employees with flu to work as normal. Attitudes like these threaten team morale, especially if an intimidated and infectious colleague spreads their illness around the office. The prejudiced stance from inflexible bosses often relates to their previous run-ins with staff – maybe a particularly strained relationship made them question if their office nemesis was calling in sick just to avoid them.

If your team is happy and fulfilled, with healthy communication between senior and junior staff, presenteeism shouldn’t be a problem. The odd sick day, with good reason, should be expected and not feared. Think back to a time when you last had an awful stomach bug or migraine, and remember how hard it was to think straight, let alone go about your normal business. Why would you put your employees through a working day in that state?

Being present doesn’t make you productive

Managers need to get one thing clear: the person who stays longest at the office isn’t necessarily the hardest worker, or the best worker. They might just be terrible at time management, or staying late to avoid a difficult home life. As Max Lukominkskyi writes in The Coffeelicious, ‘overworking has nothing to do with the quality and efficiency of your work’.

Once you get past the 40-hour mark of a working week, and head towards a 60-hour week, your productivity falls. So, the person who leaves at 5pm might just be a quick worker. Instead of checking who’s still in the office, and chastising those who walk out on time, see how quickly they can turn around a task at short notice, or how easily they manage a brainstorming session. Just being present isn’t enough.

Some employees and teams won’t share their skills

It’s great to have specialists in a company – the people you know are great at using a certain piece of software, or fixing a specific problem – but this can be a double-edged sword. When the one person who can solve an issue has finally taken time off, you can’t afford for things to slide. The solution is to encourage skill sharing.

Think logically about which team members could share skills or provide temporary cover for each other’s workloads. Could your web team also learn to give external presentations? Could the customer relations team learn the ropes of social media? Skill sharing sessions can boost morale, make employees feel valued (and therefore help with employee retention, according to Nutcache), and can foster relationships. They’re useful as team-building exercises, too.

If more businesses saw presenteeism as an outdated concept in 2017, we’d have a brighter future for both employers and employees. Go and play your part now, and make presenteeism a thing of the past.

Polly is a graduate jobs writer for Inspiring Interns.