4 – What is presenteeism, leavism and absenteeism – warning signs

What is presenteeism in the workplace- The phrase relates to employees are at work but may be unwell. The phrase relates to employees who come into work despite being unwell, and so are not performing to their best.

What is leavism in the workplace- The phrase leavism is very similar to presenteeism. It is generally when an employee is not taking the necessary time away from the workplace to relax and recharge. This can lead to a very poor work life balance, and burnout.

What is absenteeism in the workplace- The phrase relates to employees that have been absent from work for an extended period of time, that is not considered to be reasonable.

As an employer we need to consider the warning signs that employees may be displaying over a short or longer period of time, that can affect productivity. By knowing what the signs are, the employer can consider what the most appropriate actions to take are, to prevent presenteeism and absenteeism in the workplace.

General warning signs may be:

An increase in unexplained absences or sick leave- an employee who is normally every present and keen to get the workload completed.

Poor performance- an employee who for no reason is not performing or producing work to the same level as expetced or required.

Poor-time-keeping- an employee not arriving for work on time, or taking longer than necessary or expected breaks without authorisation.

Increased use of alcohol, drugs, tobacco, or caffeine- visual signs that the employee is depending on substances to support being in the workplace. Substances does not always refer to illegal substances.

Frequent headaches and backaches- employees complaining of feeling out of sorts with niggles and pains which are out of the ordinary

Withdrawal from social contact- employees stepping away from interacting with colleagues, actively taking part in meetings or gatherings, or offering to help and support others in group/team tasks.

Poor judgement / indecision- employees making poor decisions taht could lead to mistakes or errors for others to have to rectify

Constant tiredness or low energy- lack of enthusiasm that is normally displayed

Unusual displays of emotion, e.g., frequent irritability or tearfulness

Working slowly- an employee who is not producing work at the same level of intensity as normally expected or seen.

Missing deadlines- an employee who is normally extremely diligent about ensuring deadlines are met, or helping others to meet deadlines, who starts to miss deadlines which could be significant for the organisation

 Difficulty concentrating- an employee who is displaying signs of being unable to concentrate for a period of time on a task in hand or asking for constant support. This could be an employee who normally works through tasks at a measured pace but is unable to get started on tasks without support and supervision.

Appearing numb or emotionless- lack of empathy to colleagues, or unable to listen and support colleagues’ wit issues be work or personal.

Withdrawing from work activity- like withdrawing from the team, the employee could be shying away from taking on responsibility that would normally be expected, or asking for help more than usual

Overworking- a case of leavism, the employee cannot leave work and recharge. It could be a case of answering emails from the phone late at night or taking work home to go over. It could be since the pandemic that the employee is struggling to reestablish the work life balance when having to work from home.

Forgetting directives, procedures, and requests- being forgetful happens to everyone, but when an employee is regularly forgetting tasks, this could be costly to the team and the organisation, and a sign of someone with other things going on inside or outside of the workplace.

Having difficulty with work transitions or changes in routines- changes can happen in the workplace, change or department, personnel, or office buildings, as well as job roles and responsibilities. These can all influence the metal wellbeing of employees.

5 – As an employer- how to start the conversation around mental wellbeing- how do you show that you are being non-judgemental

As an employer where the working relationship with an employee can sometimes be purely professional, it is about being able to and wanting to start the conversation about mental health.

By plucking up the courage and starting the conversation, it can help support reducing the stigma and make the employee understand that they are not alone.

When staring the conversation around mental health the most important thing to consider is to think very carefully about what is to be said, or what you as an employer would like to say, and to ensure that the environment that the conversation is right, and that other people will not interrupt or overhear.

The next consideration is to ensure the right questions are asked. The first question will generally be ‘how are you feeling’. A strong open question that allows the employee to provide as much detail as they feel comfortable with sharing.

To support an employee, it is essential that you listen, don’t interrupt, walk away or do something else such as looking at your phone, but show that you are genuinely interested in listening to what the employee has to say, and what information they are about to trust you with. As part of the listening process, it is essential that listening is done in a non-judgemental way. Some of the information that you may hear, could be difficult to listen to, understand, or agree with.

Starting the conversation and listening are only the beginning of the process, as an employer you offer support, resources and signpost the employee. As the employer you are not there to make a diagnosis but may be able to offer ideas and support as to what may be going on and where the right sort of support can be provided. Ultimately the employer cannot cure the employee, but can be part of the process, depending on the level of support they want.

Being non-judgemental in the way that you listen is bot just about sitting back and letting the employee open up, it is in the body language, communication tone, style and behaviour being displayed and all the nonverbal signs demonstrated.

When thinking about the ways in which to encourage employees to open up and show non-judgemental skills, it is good to consider:

Giving the employee plenty of time to consider what they would like to say or discuss without interrupting them. Don’t think a conversation can take place over a quick 5-minute break, ensure that plenty of time is dedicated to this challenging conversation.

Consider the words carefully that the employee is saying- is this a conversation that can be continued within the organisation, or is specialised help required, and if so, what are the words used that provide the trigger as to how serious the situation is.

Ensure that time is given for both the employer and the employee to reflect. This can support more productive and long-lasting support to gradually bring the employee back to where they would like to be.

Be empathetic, even if you do not agree with everything that is being discussed. Ensure you are not judging the employee and understand that this is a challenging time.

Once the employee has finished, it may be useful to recap the main points raised, so the employee understands that you have listened and taken in the concerns or worries, and it can also help the reflection process for the employee on hearing what has been communicated.

Once the initial conversation has finished, it can then be a chance to consider what the next steps could be. As the employer it is important to remember that a solutoin may not be found immediately, and that may other people and resources may need to be involved along the way. Such examples could include family, friends, peers, doctors, help groups etc.

6 – The effect the pandemic has had on mental wellbeing in the workplace

It has been widely recognised how severe the impact the pandemic has been not only to the employee, but also to the employer and the uncertainty of how the business and organisation is going to look and be once some sort of normality returns within the workplace. Over the last two years employees and employers have adapted incredibly well to working outside of the workplace, often turning a small home into a productive workplace, which has made it harder for all to be able to ensure a clear distinction between when work ends and personal life starts and vice versa.  Many employers have had to adapt their approach to be more flexible in the way that employee work, and are now finding it a challenge to return to some sort of normal, or find an acceptable balance as employees also find it difficult to adjust back into the workplace, or realise that they want more flexible working hours. As many employees and employers transition back into the workplace, it has been noticeable that added stress, pressure and anxiety has been placed onto the organisation to ensure that the workplace is fit, and safe for all to support creating that open, inclusive productive working space. It must also be considered that not all employees are able to return as easily to the workplace, as they may be suffering from other medical issues which make more vulnerable and it is down to the employer to consider a safe management back to work if possible.

The role of the employer is critical, and each employer must show compassion, and ensure that strong two way communication is maintained as part of the process, so that employees can feel valued and empowered to support a return to work.

In principle to support a productive return to work the employer needs to consider:

Making the workplace attractive to employees- be this a quiet space to get away from the hectic family life to be able to complete work, or a hygienic space where employees feel safe that they can return back home without fear of passing on any potential sickness, and the require further time away from work.

Employers need to ensure that the employment law relevant to their country and sector is fully understood to ensure fairness among all employees and any changes to contracts or working conditions.

Employers need to ensure that employees are reminded and can see that the support that was in place before the pandemic to aid mental wellbeing is still in place and that resources, toolkits, acceptable monitoring of behaviour and support is very much a focal point of returning back to the workplace. Many employees may have been working alone for a long time, and it does take a little time to adjust back to working in a larger group or team, face to face.

For many employees working from home during the pandemic, the blurred boundaries between home and work made it much harder to switch and realise when they were headed for burnout.

Studies have shown that a large number of employees working from home have or are experiencing symptoms of burnout.

A mental health at work guide was created by the charity MIND with the aims to build a simple framework that supports what good practice looks like and includes six standards for how organisations can better support employees’ mental health. The main areas that it looks at are:

 Prioritise mental health in the workplace by developing and delivering a systematic programme of activity.

Proactively ensure work design and organisational culture drive positive mental health outcomes. Promote an open culture around mental health.

Increase organisational confidence and capability.

Provide mental health tools and support.

Increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting.

Now more than ever it has been recognised that a clear mental health plan within the workplace is required. It needs to also be recognised that it is critical that employees as well as employers take a very active role in developing these plans so that they can work for an inclusive and productive workplace going forward.