Every executive has been faced with the same scenario. “I’m sick. I can’t come today.”… But this classic situation is now being replaced by a new problem called ‘Presenteeism’. There are those who come to the office but cannot work and remain idle because they have headaches, flu, feminine complaints, stress or other kinds of ailments. A study in the USA has shown that this problem costs companies US $2 per person per day and that the total cost runs into billion of dollars.
Companies' new syndrome
The general manager of a human resources firm is talking about an important trend which has come to the fore in Turkey in the last few years, noting that: “Companies, particularly the larger ones and those which are foreign owned, have begun to pay greater attention to the health of their workforce. This can be seen from the precautions they have taken and the strategies they have developed.” He says that a rapidly increasing number of companies are developing programs to address ailments which reduce profitability and make employees unhappy, ranging from headaches to stomach complaints, depression and backache.
In the West the name given to this problem which Turkish companies are taking measures to address is ‘Presenteeism’ In recent years This concept, which can be summarised as ‘coming to the office when ill or unwell’, has really begun to disturb companies. In the past companies used to struggle with the problem of absenteeism, which means ‘not coming to work for one reason or another’, but now they are trying to tackle a different problem. This problem, which is called ‘Presenteeism’ in the business literature, means the losses that accrue to companies if employees are even a little unwell. Experts believe that if employees come to work even though they are unwell then this has a negative impact on the company in terms of costs.
Research done on this subject in the USA and UK in particular clearly demonstrates its importance. For example, a study conducted by the New England Medical Center in the USA supports this claim.
The study was conducted in 2002 on employees earning an average of US $45,000 per year in the USA-based Lockheed Martin company. It covered the 28 most common complaints. It showed that the allergic reactions were the most common complaints that employees had in the workplace. These reactions reduced productivity by 4 percent and could be found amongst 60 percent of employees. They also caused Lockheed average losses of US $1.8 million per year.
In Turkey and the world as a whole the most widespread cause of absenteeism is flu at 18 percent of cases. Flu reduces employees’ productivity by 5 percent. In terms of frequency of occurrence, flu is followed by skin complaints, gastritis, depression and migraine. They reduce employees’ productivity by an average of 5 percent.
US $2,000 cost per employee
In fact, the negative impact of presenteeism on employees has been known for some time. What is new is that companies understand that it costs them more than they had previously realized. Research has shown that in the USA 115 working hours are lost every year due to a variety of complaints suffered by employees. This results in losses for employers of US $2,000 per employee each year.
Human resources managers are trying to use this information to explain the importance of the problem to high level executives. The human resources manager at Pitney Bowes, which is an important player in the field of digital products, says that the company was always aware of presenteeism. But he added that the reports from productivity studies had produced some very striking results. The data in these reports have made it much easier to persuade high level executives from every sector
Experts believe that presenteeism is not fully understood in Turkey. The measures that are currently taken against presenteeism are flu jabs, motivational seminars and different applications against general health problems.
HRM General Manager Aylin Çoskunoğlu says that the most common presenteeism problems amongst women employees in Turkey are those related to birth. She says that feminine complaints also have an impact in terms of reducing productivity in the workplace. She believes that many female executives believe that they should not only do their jobs superbly but that they should have no feminine complaints.
Flexible working hours offer a solution
The most common suggestion for a solution to presenteeism is the introduction of ‘flexible working hours’. When one takes a closer look at what is actually done, what is striking is that so few companies take measures to address this problem. According to a survey of 5,000 executives by the USA-based Institute of Management, 40 percent of executives work 50 hours a week. Sixty percent of these people say that the way in which they work has a negative impact on their health, 75 percent said that is negatively affected their married lives and 80 percent their relations with their children. In Turkey high level executives work an average of 60 hours a week.
Aylin Çoskunoğlu argues that flexible working hours will enable people to work more efficiently. She says that the result will be that employees will be able to make their own work plans and be more productive.
WHAT MEASURES IS UNILEVER TAKING AGAINST ‘PRESENTEEISM’?
PLEASANT WORKING ENVIRONMENT We do not have any statistics on complaints which reduce production in the workplace. Instead we believe that it is more important to prepare the conditions which will prevent these complaints appearing. The way to do this is not just to increase productivity in the workplace. We really believe in the importance of a balance between work and private life. We encourage our employees to set aside time for themselves in order to enjoy their lives more.
IT IS NOT AN EASY METHOD
We know that it is not easy to achieve this under current conditions but we are not going to give up on it either. An organization comprised of people who do not pay any attention to the quality of their own lives and who do not have any hobbies outside work cannot understand the consumer. The main cause of the complaints which reduce productivity at work today is the level of stress in the business world and this is increasing every day. If companies have a good healthcare plan such as ours it is easier to deal with many of the physical complaints. If our employees feel ill or unwell then they can notify whoever is in charge, rest and not come to work.