Presenteeism costing employers in the workplace

Presenteeism costing employers in the workplace

Absenteeism has long been the thorn in the side of employers but a new workplace scourge is threatening to be an even greater problem — presenteeism.

"Absenteeism is where people don’t turn up to work or they have
a sick day and take it off," says psychiatrist, researcher and University of Queensland professor Harvey Whiteford.

"Presenteeism is when they feel obligated to turn up or they have run out of sick leave or they are highly driven and feel guilty for not going to work.

"What you see . . . is a decline in a worker’s performance. The quality of the work product declines, there are mistakes in it and it takes them longer to do it."

Medibank Private estimates presenteeism costs Australian employers more than $17 billion a year and a study, published in this month’s Australia And New Zealand Journal Of Psychiatry, found mental health is a major contributor to this.

Whiteford helped conduct the study which monitored the work productivity of more than 60,000 full-time employees for chronic and acute physical and mental health conditions.

The study found mental health caused the biggest decrement in productivity out of some 20 different physical and mental conditions.

It also found depression, anxiety and other psychological distress cost Australian employers $5.9 billion in lost productivity each year.

"Mental health is the single largest contributor to lost productivity," Whiteford says.

Symptoms such as fatigue, decreased concentration and poor memory can severely affect the performance of employees.

Beyond Blue national workplace manager Therese Fitzpatrick says indecisiveness, physical ailments, weight gain or loss, irritability and insomnia are also symptoms of depression and anxiety, which can severely hamper a person’s ability to function at work. "This is significant for employers because depression and anxiety disorders are most prevalent during peak working years," Fitzpatrick says.

"The reality is that most organisations will have people experiencing mental health issues right now in their workplace.”

Some of those people, particularly those getting treatment, will continue to work well but untreated depression costs an organisation about $10,000 per person through absenteeism and presenteeism.

"Organisations need to have a look at what they can do in their workplace to look after the mental health of their staff," Fitzpatrick says.

More information:

Tips for employers
* Raise awareness among staff: Get behind initiatives like Movember, distribute pamphlets or hold information sessions.
* Early intervention: Don’t wait until the situation is out of control before approaching the employee. Have the conversation and encourage the person to seek help.
* Prevention: Think about factors that may contribute to the mental health of staff. Include mental health in the company’s overall health policy.

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