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Does the shift to remote / flexible working mean a rising culture of e-presenteeism?

By July 28, 2020 No Comments

Business after business is lining up to offer employees remote / flexible working in some form for the foreseeable future.

Caution, health and safety concerns, relative work from home successes, increased productivity and big cost savings are influencing long-term planning to make remote working permanent.  This year is shaping to be a watershed moment in the way we work. But what will be the positive changes for good? Will the end of presenteeism be something that comes out this of irreversible paradigm shift?  Or is physical presenteeism just morphing into a rising culture of e-presenteeism in the new digital workplace?

Before we get on to this, we need to understand what we mean by presenteeism, whether it’s in the office or virtual.

What do we mean by presenteeism and e-presenteeism?

‘Presenteeism’, which has been an issue for years, is a term used when an employee carries on working when unwell or they are injured or burnt out.  It can also be extended to being overly present by working outside the normal working week and being plugged into work while on holiday say.  Meanwhile, e-presenteeism, whereby employees stay online as much as possible, work beyond their contracted hours and find it difficult to switch off, is a fast-growing issue for remote workers.

The rise of e-presenteeism

Four in five HR professionals report that the move to home working has encouraged a culture of e-presenteeism, according to LinkedIn and the Mental Health Foundation. Research and reports from businesses is telling us that the new three-minute commute means that some employees are filling any time that they’ve gained with more work. Instead of working on the train they are just turning their laptop on earlier or working late. Meanwhile, Executive Grapevine found that remote workers were doing an extra 28 hours each month during lockdown. The number rises to 35.1 hours for younger workers aged between 16 and 24. That’s around an extra one to two days each week.

While there undoubted benefits of working from home: more time with the family, no commute, better lunches, time to do more fun stuff after work, employees and the companies that they work for need to be vigilant about the negative impact of e-presenteeism. Using the work technology that is keeping everybody connected, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack et al, means that team members can be plugged into work 24/7.

As Guardian CEO Deanna Mulligan told McKinsey: “We’ve found that people are substituting their commuting time with working. Our IT guys are telling us that they’re getting three extra hours out of the coders. We’re mandating across the whole company that they can’t work after a certain hour at night or that they have to take their vacation because nobody’s taking vacation days.”

Combatting burnout and stress

The latest research points to significant increases in stress levels and burnout, which in part could be being fuelled by increasing e-presenteeism.  LinkedIn  and the Mental Health Foundation found that 56% of adults felt more stressed and anxious about work than they did before the lockdown.

Communication and open dialogue is key here to keep in regular contact with remote workers to find out how they are feeling, keep an eye on workloads and be clear about company policy.  It’s also important to make sure they are taking any time off they need when unwell, and are accessing the employee benefits and other well-being initiatives that are available to them.

Job and financial insecurities mean that some employees could be spending more time online and being overly present, even when they are unwell, to try to show their value and worth. With remote / flexible working set to become a permanent arrangement across many businesses, employers and employees need to be vigilant about the rising culture of e-presenteeism, which will become more entrenched without proactive interventions.

If your business is looking at implementing an employee benefits strategy, or rethinking your plan to help your remote teams take better care of their health and well-being, we’re here you need our help.