Presenteeism can occur in several forms, including employees working when they are too ill to do so, working longer than their contracted hours, or feeling that they have to be constantly available to respond to emails and messages outside of working hours.

According to research by the CIPD, the majority of employers are seeing high levels of presenteeism in their workforce.

Of the 668 HR professionals polled in the latest Health and wellbeing at work report, 75% saw presenteeism in employees attending the workplace, and 77% saw this in employees working from home.

Furthermore, high levels of employees working outside of contracted hours, or using annual leave to complete work, were also observed.

The report suggests that the rise in homeworking, and increased use of digital technology at home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has enabled an ‘always on’ culture, where employees find it more difficult to switch off, and where the lines between work and home life are increasingly blurred.

A legal right to switch off

This concern surrounding the blurred boundaries around work and home life caused by changing working patterns, is further emphasised in recent research conducted by Opinium on behalf of the union Prospect, which found that out of 2,428 people polled, 66% would back a policy that gave them the legal right to “switch off”.

The right to disconnect policy, proposed by Prospect would legally require employers to agree rules with their workforce on when people can and cannot be contacted. Prospect has called for this right to be included in the Employment Bill, first introduced in December 2019, but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A preventative approach to health and wellbeing

Whilst many employers have put additional measures in place to support the health and wellbeing of employees over the past year, it is clear that unhealthy working practices, will continue to be an issue, so long as the lines between home and work remain unclear. Employers need to manage the risks of their workforce feeling pressured to be ‘always on’.

Increased support introduced over the past year should not be seen as a temporary solution, particularly as the working landscape continues to evolve throughout the next stage of the pandemic, with remote or hybrid working likely to remain in place for many businesses. Employers should instead see health and wellbeing as a business-critical issue, and put procedures in place for the long-term.

Employers may also consider implementing the following solutions as part of their preventative, long-term approach:

  • Consider introducing flexible working policies that are properly embedded in the workplace culture
  • Avoid being too prescriptive about working hours where possible, to provide more flexibility for those with caring responsibilities for example
  • Encourage positive behaviours such as taking regular breaks, healthy eating and physical activity
  • Ensure line managers have the appropriate training and guidance to provide health and wellbeing support
  • Ensure those in senior positions are role models for healthy working practices
  • Tackle the underlying issues that lead employees to feel like they can’t switch off, whether this be heavy workloads, or unreasonable management expectations

Ultimately, putting in place a preventative approach to health and wellbeing is likely to lead to improvements in productivity, and help employees establish clear boundaries between their work and home life.

If you would like any help on reviewing workplace policies, training or any other HR matter, please get in touch with Vivienne Tolley, HR Services Director.