Fiona Yorke April 28 2022

Virtual Presenteeism

Principal consultant, Fiona Yorke, explores creating a culture of Virtual Presenteeism in your organisation...

I have 3 questions for you: Is your organisation creating a culture of ‘Virtual Presenteeism?’ and if it is, what might be the consequences? And importantly, what can you do about it?

Presenteeism, is the practice of being present for more hours than is productive, which leads ultimately to what we know as burnout.

Here are some sobering facts; in the UK 35 working days are lost per worker each year due to presenteeism, plus, evidence suggests that if you are working more than 50 hours a week your productivity plunges not good for the individual or for business.

Since the start of Covid the workplace can be defined differently now. It’s possible you are one of the many thousands working either permanently from home or have a hybrid working arrangement. The challenge for leaders today is the dangers of ‘virtual presenteeism’ and the consequences this has on teams, on productivity, and on business survival.

What do I mean by ‘virtual presenteeism?’ Simply put, its presenteeism gone digital – where work devices are ‘always on’. This has come about via the blurring of the boundaries as we attempted to navigate ‘working from home’. You no longer leave a building at the end of your working day, your safe haven, the place to relax and unwind is now your workplace too.

The consequences for some people's mental health are now becoming apparent, the Royal Society for Public Health recent research findings suggest 67% felt less connected to colleagues with 56% finding it harder to switch off with only 35% being offered Mental Health support from their employer. Feelings of isolation and anxiety are real and impacting today on your business.

So what can we do? There is no ‘wonder remedy’ here that suits all, but here are some ideas:

  • Raise the leadership capability. Leaders who can provide psychological safety for their teams who role model setting boundaries and give clear signals that it’s now time to ‘stop working’, have healthier happier, and more productive teams
  • Support managers to know the signs of ‘virtual presenteeism such as emails sent clearly ‘outside working hours.
  • Actively discourage an ‘always on culture’, consider involving senior leaders to support and issue communications to that effect.
  • Monitor the raw performance of teams – are they being less productive? Pay attention when people say they didn’t sleep well, this is a key sign that virtual presenteeism might be at play.
  • At team, meetings have a slot on ‘how have you nurtured your mental health this week’ to encourage open dialogue, connect and build resilience.

  • Virtual communications are not all bad but back-to-back virtual meetings are exhausting and we know the beta waves in our brains (those associated with stress) increase when we don’t take breaks and this leads to reduced performance.

The good news is taking steps now means that virtual presenteeism stays just as it is right now – a feature on a vlog!

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