What Is E-Presenteeism and How Can You Avoid It?

What Is E-Presenteeism and How Can You Avoid It?

Presenteeism — when an employee turns in for work despite being too ill to be productive or regularly works beyond their contracted hours — is not a new problem and employers have long recognised its impact on individuals and the business. From a loss of productivity and an increased risk of mistakes to long periods of sickness absence, presenteeism can seriously impact an employee’s performance. 

“E-presenteeism” is a newer phenomenon and one that many organisations are only just becoming aware of, thanks to the rise in remote working during the current pandemic. But what is it and how can you minimise e-presenteeism in your team?

What Is E-Presenteeism?

E-presenteeism is the same as “presenteeism” but refers specifically to people working remotely. It may be an issue if an employee:

  • Works when they are too ill to do so.
  • Regularly works for longer than their contracted hours.
  • Routinely responds to emails, calls and messages outside of office hours.
  • Clocking in for work but being less engaged, motivated and productive.

If a remote worker feels they should be available online and responding to communications around the clock, e-presenteeism is an issue. 

How Much of a Concern Is E-Presenteeism?

The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) reported that presenteeism in UK organisations tripled between 2010 and 2018. The emergence of COVID-19 has revealed that the problem persists — or is even exacerbated — when there is no need for a physical presence in the workplace.  

Recent research by LinkedIn and the Mental Health Foundation found that 80% of HR managers believe the sudden increase in remote working since March 2020 has led to a sharp rise in e-presenteeism. 

Lockdown has made it harder for employees to switch off after working hours. Without the freedom to leave the house, except for specific reasons, many people are struggling to differentiate between work and leisure time. In the LinkedIn survey, employees reported working an extra 28 hours per month on average during lockdown. 

E-presenteeism is a concern for organisations because it can lead to poor performance, lower productivity and, eventually, employee burnout.  

What Can Employers Do to Help?

To reduce the risk of e-presenteeism, consider the following:

  • Communication — provide as many opportunities as possible for remote and furloughed employees to discuss work and personal concerns with relevant members of staff. This could mean setting up a peer-support system, providing access to an HR professional or organising online social events. If there is a culture of free and open communication, it will be much easier to pick up on cases of e-presenteeism and nip them in the bud. 

Remember that some people will be juggling childcare with their work commitments while working from home, so be considerate when scheduling meetings and catch-up calls. Some workers may appreciate a fixed routine that allows them to plan their personal commitments; others may require a more flexible approach. Ask for regular feedback to ensure all team members feel able to communicate their needs, queries and concerns — whatever their circumstances.

  • Engagement — take advantage of today’s advanced HR technology to monitor team engagement and wellbeing. Invite regular employee feedback and communicate how this information is used — people will soon lose faith if they feel they’re shouting into a void. 

According to a survey by the investment bank Jefferies, 60% of workers are eager to return to the office. In another poll, 70% of the 5,000 HR employers polled believed the main reasons for this desire to leave remote working behind are the social and mental health issues, including loneliness, that many people are experiencing due to being forced to work from home for the first time. Now more than ever, employers must strive to support employee wellbeing and boost engagement if they want to maintain optimum levels of productivity and retain top talent.

  • Expectations — leaders must manage employee expectations to ensure that healthy ways of working are being maintained.

Circulate the company’s policy on taking breaks and adhering to contracted work hours. Establish a culture that promotes a healthy work-life balance. Managers can set an example by only responding to work communications during office hours and being proactive in addressing excessive work hours amongst employees in their team. 

Update HR policies and the employee handbook to include guidance on remote working. This should clarify that there is no expectation for people to work for longer than in an office.

  • Holiday — annual leave is still essential for people who are working temporarily from home.

However, many employees may feel reluctant to use annual leave during lockdown when they cannot travel or socialise with others. Without the pressures of a commute or the school run, some remote workers might convince themselves that they don’t need a break.

Early on in the first lockdown back in March 2020, the government announced a relaxation of the rules on carrying over statutory annual leave to the next year. Although this was intended to support key workers who the country has relied on during the pandemic, the move may have been misinterpreted by non-essential workers who could risk losing their leave if they didn’t take it before the end of the year.

As previously highlighted, people working from home often work longer hours than their office-based counterparts. There is also the added pressure of stress, anxiety and loneliness — all of which could lead to employee burnout without appropriate periods of rest. Leaders should monitor staff takeup of leave and encourage their staff to use the holiday time they are entitled to.

E-presenteeism is a growing problem with remote working on the rise and many employers planning to maintain some degree of home working long term. Employers must carefully monitor employee engagement, wellbeing and performance to identify the risk of this issue arising and identify strategies for preventing and combating it.

Stuart Hearn

Stuart Hearn is a speaker, people management specialist and the CEO & Founder of performance-tech company Clear Review. With 20 years’ HR experience, both as an HR Director at Sony Music and a consultant, he has spent the last 10 years helping organisations to embed practices that engage, develop and retain their people.

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