Whether you’re a new-found home office devotee or relishing every moment spent back in the office, our new way of work has seen a problematic trend gradually infiltrate our lives: presenteeism.
Speaking to news.com.au, SEEK’s Resident Psychologist Sabina Read describes the condition as the “cousin of burnout” and says it happens when employees are working when they shouldn’t, whether that’s due to a physical or mental condition.
“It can be for a variety of reasons,” she says. “It can be due to physical health, mental health, burnout, just general run of the mill sickness or to an extent, being really unmotivated and unengaged which can happen when we drag ourselves through work with very low levels of motivation.”
However, blended work structures have seen presenteeism manifest in other ways, from e-presenteeism to not taking your leave. Here are the other ways it may be appearing in your working life and how to put an end to the cycle.
THE RISE OF E-PRESENTEEISM
Although COVID-19 has stopped people going to the office when they’re physically sick, the need to appear present online – even outside of your office hours – has increased due to the work-from-home creep. Ms Read calls this phenomenon “e-presenteeism”.
“It’s more prevalent because we’re online all the time and it makes it easier to work when you shouldn’t be working,” says Ms Read.
“Maybe you go back to the desk at 8pm at night and there’s nothing to do so you revert back to work outside of your typical hours.”
LEAVING YOUR LEAVE
Not taking your leave is another kind of presenteeism which Ms Read says has increased due to COVID-19. And while banking your leave until a proper holiday becomes a reality may sound harmless, it means you’re not giving yourself a break from the daily grind.
“I’ve actually observed a lot of people say, I don’t want to use my precious annual leave because I can’t go anywhere, so I’ll just push on and that’s becoming a significant factor to presenteeism,” says Ms Read.
“You think: ‘If I can’t go anywhere then I’ll just keep working,’ and then you haven’t stopped and you’re exhausted. That’s pretty common.”
Although Ms Read says using your annual leave will help you feel “revitalised, positive and engaged to not just work but also life,” it’s important to practice self care and rest in other ways apart from a sporadic holiday. This is where taking regular short breaks like mini holidays or long weekends can be helpful.
“I call it the ‘Disneyland approach’. People think they can fill up their cup in two weeks and it’s a flawed assumption,” she says.
“Things like long weekends can be just as important as lengthy annual leave options.
“We need to be looking after ourselves and making space for our mental health every week and month. People not taking annual leave is a problem but it’s not the only issue because there’s so many options available to us to take breaks.”
THE CONVERSATION WORKPLACES NEED TO HAVE
While presenteeism is an issue that affects both the employer and employee, Ms Read says a solution for both sides is to foster and normalise conversations around mental health. Despite this, she understands that declaring a mental health condition to an employer is a sensitive topic and one each individual approaches differently.
“It’s a really complex area and I hear a lot of employees talk about this, how much do I disclose of my mental health story to my manager, boss, employees or stakeholders? And there’s no one size fits all answer to that and for that reason someone might be living with quite severe anxiety and they just try and push on until they have a significant panic attack, or not be able to get online.”
While physical conditions like a fever or a broken leg are more accepted as visible illnesses, conditions involving mental health are often not spoken about until they reach breaking point – something Ms Read says this needs to change.
“Often it’s only once it reaches crisis point that people realise something isn’t right and go, ‘what’s happening here?’” she says.
“We need to invite conversations regularly instead of waiting for someone to be at their tipping point, so mental health conversations are as acceptable and commonplace as our physical health.”
This article was created in sponsorship with SEEK