The impact of absenteeism and presenteeism on bottom-lines

09 June 2015 Terence Govender, Metropolitan
Terence Govender, Executive Head: Wellness, Metropolitan’s Health division.

Terence Govender, Executive Head: Wellness, Metropolitan’s Health division.

Proactive action is essential in addressing the growing impact of absenteeism and presenteeism on company bottom-lines. The impact will become even more acute in the future, as the shift towards the onset of chronic disease linked to lifestyle during working years drives absenteeism and presenteeism to unprecedented levels. So says Terence Govender, Executive Head: Wellness, Metropolitan’s Health division.

Estimates from Statistics South Africa show that absenteeism costs the SA economy around R16 billion per annum. These costs associated with absenteeism, an employee’s habitual and intentional absence from work, are more than simply the employee’s salary cost of sick leave. Depending on the nature of the industry, the company may have to bear the cost of bringing in a temporary replacement. Other staff members may become demotivated and morale may dwindle as they are required to ‘carry’ absent employees’ workloads, which in turn fuels presenteeism.

“Studies suggest that the primary drivers of absenteeism are first substance abuse, followed by chronic disease linked to lifestyle, such as hypertension and diabetes,” explains Govender.

When the body is at work but the mind is not

Govender adds that the impact of presenteeism can be even more severe. Presenteeism refers to the problem of employees being physically present at work but not fully engaged.

The main underlying drivers of presenteeism include personal financial difficulties, work-life imbalance and unhealthy lifestyles which may include bad eating habits, lack of exercise, poor sleeping patterns and substance abuse. This, in turn, leads to lack of engagement, which drives major losses in productivity.

Presenteeism can take various forms. Many employees go to work while ill with conditions such as influenza. Although not well, they pitch up at the workplace, but are largely unproductive once there.

Then there are those employees who overextend themselves and fail to follow a healthy work-life balance. Abnormally long working hours becomes the norm and they end up stressed and exhausted.

According to Govender, a new form of presenteeism is evolving which can be linked to the effects of social media on employees. Extremely difficult to manage, this form of presenteeism develops from peoples’ need to be connected. A survey from the United States found that the average person spends 45 minutes to an hour in an eight hour workday on social media sites. We are only starting to see the tip of what could become a social media iceberg for employers in South Africa.

Absenteeism solutions: measure and manage

The starting point for addressing absenteeism is to quantify the size of the problem and understand the specific absenteeism trends and dynamics in a particular workplace. Metropolitan’s Health division offers a programme that addresses absenteeism through a three step process.

Govender explains: “The first step focuses on detecting the main underlying cause of absenteeism. The second step is to treat the root cause, while the final step is to ensure a review process is implemented to avoid future events. The programme works by analysing data using sophisticated algorithms.”

Proactive wellness management

A one-size-fits-all approach never works when it comes to wellness, as each workplace has unique needs. The recommended wellness solution may encompass a range of interventions, including absenteeism and disability management, health risk assessments and clinical health screening - amongst others.

Govender is pleased to note the increasing numbers of South African employers addressing the mental and emotional aspects of wellness through the establishment of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs). These programmes are very effective in addressing many of the issues underlying disengagement presenteeism, such as personal and work stress.

Govender concludes, “Integrated wellness initiatives have a key role to play in encouraging and empowering employees to make the right choices and take ‘ownership of their health status’, as they change from being passive recipients of scheme benefits and medical services, to active partners and co-producers of their own health.

“Employers stand to benefit tremendously from the improved productivity that flows from reduced levels of absenteeism and presenteeism, while employees enjoy the many benefits of a healthier lifestyle and improved quality of life.”


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