Not only does the practice threaten other people’s health, but it is also known to be associated with stress-related absence and mental health problems.

Presenteeism was reported by almost 75% of all organisations surveyed by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) for its 2016 Absence Management survey.

  • One in five respondents said that more than half of all employees came to work when unwell
  • More than half of those who noticed an increase in presenteeism also reported an increase in stress-related absence
  • Organisations reporting increased presenteeism were also twice as likely to report an increase in mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

Traditional absence policies do not address the issue of presenteeism. They tend to discourage time off in all circumstances rather than consider the bigger picture of overall employee wellbeing.

Ironically, this narrow focus appears to be having a negative effect on employees’ mental health and may be causing absence rates to increase.

Cognitive automation unlocks easy access to the gold standard in absence management: policies that protect both employees and employer and lead directly to a happier, healthier workforce.

The AI-powered prescription for maintaining a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed workforce has four key elements:

1. Give people time to recover

If you squeeze the time sick employees are given to recover properly from an illness, they will be affected by it for longer, increasing the chances of anything contagious being passed on to colleagues.

Working with people who are clearly unwell is also terrible for morale; as is feeling pressured to return to work too early in order to attend an important meeting or meet a deadline. Presenteeism is simply counter-productive.

Smart absence management enables a robust yet forgiving return-to-work process. Cognitive automation delivers an easy and effective process for checking-in regularly with sick employees and asking the right questions to ensure they are well enough to come back to work.

2. Don’t guilt employees into working instead of taking sick leave

According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2016 UK workers took the fewest days off work for sickness or injury since records began. Are people healthier? Or are they dragging themselves to work when they should be staying at home?

A culture of long hours and unpaid overtime has resulted in sick-day stigma: employees feeling guilty for taking time off when they feel unwell. In fact, when people are encouraged to take time off to recover – assuming they rest and do not spend time at home ‘catching up’ - it has a potent positive effect on general employee wellbeing.

3. Be consistent

Absence policies that appear to favour one employee or department over another will also hit morale, and low morale has a significant impact on employee productivity, as shown by an International Business Research study . Which one? This statement begs the question.

Absence management tools that use cognitive automation ensure that all employees in all areas of the organisation are treated in the same way, regardless of workload, function – or the mood of the line manager.

Cognitive automation removes human error and bias from decision making. All employees know they are being treated impartially and in line with company policy, which works wonders for morale.

4. Make employee wellbeing a priority

After minor illnesses, the most common causes of absence are stress, work-related musculoskeletal injuries such as neck strain, home/family/carer responsibilities, and mental ill health.

There are many ways an organisation can improve employee wellbeing, ranging from providing employee benefits such as gym membership, yoga, and counselling, to allowing flexible working, to encouraging guilt-free mental health days.

Cognitive automation is a great boon for managing the suite of available benefits and provide an easy way for employees to apply for them, report absence, and book time off. Mobile self-service applications enable members of staff to do all these things without having to approach a manager or HR representative, which not only saves time but also may be particularly useful for employees with mental health issues.

Cognitive automation is just what the doctor ordered.


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