Mind control: Understanding what contributes to absenteeism and presenteeism

Mental health problems make up the bulk of reasons behind absenteeism and presenteeism, so if you want to decrease both then first boost staff morale and wellbeing.

Bupa report has highlighted that Brits regularly experience stress, anxiety or depression, mental health problems which are amongst the most common reasons for absenteeism and presenteeism. Both significantly impact businesses, together leading to a financial loss of £73bn a year.

Presenteeism is perhaps a more human problem, whereby illness can quickly spread and leads to staff failure to get better. Lowered morale plays a part as well. Of course, in terms of absenteeism, lost days stack up to affect a business’ bottom line. The remaining employees also have to pick up the slack.

Either way, absenteeism and presenteeism can be avoided by understanding what leads to such events, alongside fostering a culture of wellbeing.

Touching upon the subject of absenteeism and presenteeism, Tim Scott, director of people at Fletchers Solicitors, talks to Real Business about sector progress and the role managers have to play in promoting health.

Mental health is a challenge for all industries at the moment, but awareness of the issues surrounding the subject increased over recent years.

I certainly think the legal sector is changing and realising that health and wellbeing are key to improving staff retention and the motivation of employees, which will therefore benefit businesses as a whole.

Do enough employees know it gives rise to absenteeism and presenteeism?

There’s more recognition around how it can contribute to the rise of absenteeism and presenteeism – but “the word” is spreading slowly.

I’ve dealt with issues of both absenteeism and presenteeism in my career, and although absenteeism is the more common, people turning up every day when they aren’t well can be just as damaging to the company. It can also have longer term effects, especially to a company’s culture due to low staff morale or productivity.

What do you believe are the benefits of investing in employees’ health and wellbeing?

First and foremost, there’s a human element when it comes to wellbeing policies: we owe it to our workforces to look after their health and wellbeing as best we can.

From a business point of view, it’s the biggest cliché in the HR book, but employees are a company’s greatest asset – without them, most businesses wouldn’t be unable to function. Mental health issues can affect anyone, regardless of who they are or where they work.

This is no different in the legal sector and it’s about time firms started putting the health of staff before caseloads, especially given the stressful nature of the work. If firms do not take the time to develop employee wellbeing strategies, they risk losing their top talent to more forward-thinking firms.

In what ways do you invest in your employees’ health and wellbeing?

At Fletchers, we have provided managers with specialised training to help create an open culture where employees can discuss their mental health or any issues they may be having.

Half of our managers are now known as “mental health champions”, as they have had ACAS training to help them proactively spot and prevent mental health issues in their teams – an innovative move for the legal sector.

We also run a flexitime scheme, which gives staff the opportunity to earn 12 extra holiday days (on top of their existing 28) that can be built up through earning extra hours. This allows employees to have a much-needed break from the pressures of working life.

If money was no object, what health and wellbeing perks/schemes would you like to have in place?

One of the most well received perks that we have introduced was actually free fruit, which our team members really appreciate. But if money was no object, I’d look at giving our team members more time off, providing on-site treatments during the working day, and increasing support for our managers.

How would you advise SME bosses to address staff mental health?

In my experience, SMEs sometimes feel disadvantaged due to having fewer resources than larger companies. But, smaller organisations often have greater opportunities to be more flexible than larger ones and can offer the right mix of benefits to keep employees happy and motivated.

Determining what benefits to offer is about knowing what is actually important to your workforce – and this is undeniably easier in a smaller organisation. Not everyone is motivated by the same incentives, therefore benefits schemes should include a whole range of bonuses to ensure there is something to suit everyone.

Do you believe that mental health as a taboo subject persists?

I have worked in organisations where it was almost a competition to see who could stay the latest every night, and if you ever left on time, you were the butt of the “early dart/part-timer” type jokes.

But, I’ve worked in other companies where it was encouraged – and modelled by senior executives – to leave on time, take your holiday allowance and think about your wellbeing. I know which I prefer and which is more favourable to create open discussions about mental health.

Is it often the case that people don’t realise what their own mental health situation is?

It does take a certain amount of self-awareness – which not all of us have – to be conscious of our own mental health. I think where people have experienced mental health issues, either personally or have seen their immediate family or friends experience problems, they tend to be far more aware of themselves and considerate of others too. Our mental health training has definitely helped our managers in this area.

What do you think can be done to improve understanding of mental health illnesses?

The most important step is to train managers and supervisors to deal directly with people’s mental health and also to spot the signs. Encouraging an open company culture, in which mental health is not a taboo subject and staff are able to have meaningful conversations with their managers, will go a long way to ensuring staff feel well and are content in the workplace.

What is the most common misconception?

I think it’s probably the idea that we can treat mental health in the same way we treat physical health. Within most workplaces, policies and procedures are geared towards dealing with the latter, which is fine if you have a broken ankle but this is not necessarily going to be of any use if you’ve got a long term mental health issue.

How do you unwind after a tough week?

Once I’ve put the kids to bed on Friday night, I switch off my “work head” and usually occupy the sofa with a film and some popcorn.

Do you have any rituals to improve your mental health?

I use music a lot. Whether it’s sitting quietly somewhere with headphones on or strumming on one of my guitars, I always find music helps my mood and overall feeling of wellbeing. I even pop my headphones in at lunchtime and go for a walk if the mood requires me to get out of the office for a while

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