Much is written nowadays about presenteeism at work. Presenteeism shows itself primarily in two ways:
Firstly: those who come to work when they are not well; their biggest contribution to work that day will be the spreading of their illness to their colleagues.
Secondly: those who stay in the office and put in long hours to ensure that they are seen.
The motives of the people who are presentees are obviously going to be mixed but they essentially come from a place of fear. Fear that the team or department won’t function properly in their absence; fear that they will not get the promotion without being seen, fear that they will not be seen to be working hard enough at a time when cutbacks are being made. Actions taken out of fear are rarely productive, after all fear stimulates our fight or flight reaction; neither of which could be characterised as productive.
I would like to introduce another aspect of presenteeism that is productive.
I have always been interested in the role of the spiritual in our lives. Before you stop reading; in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey talks about the role of the spiritual on page 292. I think that gives me permission to talk about it here.
At the weekend I attended a two day presentation by a remarkable lady, Sidra Jaffri. She runs a programme called the Awakening. At the start of her presentation she asks the audience to relax, clear their minds and become fully present in the room. (If you’ve ever tried to clear your mind of its random and cluttering thoughts you will know how very difficult it can be.) At that moment the problem with presenteeism presented itself to me.
The problem is not physical presenteeism, it is mental absenteeism. People who are physically present at their work place but their minds are elsewhere. We’ve all met them and if we’re honest have had moments when it applied to us.
Mental absenteeism can have many roots from momentary absentmindedness to long term disenchantment with the job and the company. The death of Margaret Thatcher has brought to the fore the stories of her incredible presenteeism. Not the fact that she was able to work punishingly long hours but that she was mentally present for all of those hours; creating a working environment that many of her ministers could not live up to.
Mental presenteeism is a huge challenge for small business owners who have the responsibility of the whole business on their shoulders and have to be mentally present at all times. It’s tiring. The brain uses the most energy of all the body’s organs; it’s why we feel tired after mental activity.
It is your mental presenteeism not your physical presence that will determine how effectively you perform, whether as a business owner or an employee. When you are mentally present jobs get done quicker and therefore you can get more done. It is your degree of mental presence that is contagious not your physical presence.
So if you want to be a presentee make sure that what you pass on to others is your mental presence, not your physical virus.