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Presenteeism at the workplace costs 4.2% of GDP

Jul 06, 2022

By Neelam Rahim

We’ve all heard about absenteeism, that is, when you’re not physically present; now there’s a term called presenteeism, being physically present at work but mentally absent and unproductive due to illness, injury, stress or burnout, and this is coming at a higher economic cost than absenteeism. According to Professor Renata Schoeman, head of the MBA healthcare leadership at Stellenbosch business school, the cost of mental health-related presenteeism has been estimated at 96,500 rounds per employee annually, totalling 235 billion to 4.2% of GDP.

Speaking to Radio Islam, Professor Renata Schoeman says the first step is to distinguish between presenteeism versus people just multitasking or having a poor work ethic.

“Poor work ethic entails being at work, playing on social media or being at home in a Zoom meeting, but the video is on as you’re busy cooking. If we look at presentism, that is we are present at work. There are physical or mental reasons that cause lack of concentration which include being anxious, depressed, extremely fatigued due to insomnia and therefore cannot focus or really engage in work,” says Professor Schoeman.

Professor Schoeman further tells Radio Islam there was a significant rise in mental health disorders during the pandemic.

“The lockdown saw up to four times the increased levels being diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. So this is definitely a rise due to the stress and the social isolation. What has also happened with working online in a virtual environment, is that there’s been a blurring of home and work. So we can now work with aberrant times but it also means that we are on 24/7,” says Prof Schoeman.

Professor Schoeman says in terms of prevention first and cures Secondly, whether in the office or at home. It is imperative that policies and procedures at the organization support an excellent life work-life balance and also enable people to switch off. Leaders need to role model that behaviour.

“It’s important to really enhance engagement. And we can see if a colleague is being disengaged, glazed over, or look extremely distressed overtake. But it’s also important to have one on one, check it just having a group session every morning, you might not be able to elicit that conversation. But perhaps the team leader or line manager can pick up the phone, dial everyone once a week at least and just really check in from a compassionate human level on how people are doing.”

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