Leave me alone!

The CIPD have today published their annual report into absence and wellbeing, which you can read HERE if you haven’t already. In this blog I’ll react to and comment on some of the key findings.

In particular I want to talk about the concepts of presenteeism and leaveism as mentioned in the report.  The latter was a term I’d not heard of before but describes something I was well aware of.

The CIPD reported an increase in organisations observing presenteeism from 26% in 2010, to 86% in 2018.  They also report that 69% say leaveism has occurred in the last year.  And that only 25% are tackling presenteeism, and 27% tackling leaveism.

I’ll not comment here on what implications this has for individuals and organisations, as the CIPD report has done that in good detail already, beyond I’ll say I agree with the serious possible consequences we face.

Let’s look at these in turn.

First, presenteeism. I mentioned this concept to my wife today, having browsed the main report. She fully understood it and said that she had gone to work unwell and not done her best work whilst there.

I was vaguely aware of this but asked her to expand.

She said that in her previous organisation, she didn’t get any sick pay, and with having to pay childcare costs even if our youngest child was in nursery or not, the decision to go into work was entirely a financial one for her and nothing at all to do with her own health or her level of engagement with the company.

As it happens, she was very disengaged with that company, but I wonder what came first – the disengagement, or the presenteeism? I would suggest the problem originated with the set of terms and conditions upon joining, creating a level of discontent with a basic hygiene factor that manifested itself in presenteeism and coming to work when unwell.

One could say she went into that with eyes wide open, but this is my wife and she’d make sure you’d not say much more after that if you did.

So there’s no amount of wellbeing initiatives and stress or resilience training that would have prevented that situation, and yet many organisations would roll these out as if they were a magic solution – I met with a CEO just last year who felt that such things would solve whatever problems ailed her organisation, and was adamant that there were no hygiene factors at play that were causing the lack of engagement and presenteeism that I could see.

The report rightly highlights that financial worries are at the heart of a lot of the problems, and that would be true in my wife’s case too. But would financial education and access to financial plans have solved it, as many organisations would try? No. They wouldn’t solve the cost of childcare or the company’s ability and willingness to pay sick leave.

I wonder if some of the issues could only really be solved at government level? And whether they are willing to listen to some of the problems that the report highlights? I think there’s only so much individual organisations can do to help, and even some of the things they could do may backfire.

My final thought on the subject is whether it is better for an individual to be in work, at much less than 100% on the basis that this is still better than 0%? And I have mixed views on this, what do you think?

Second, leaveism.

I remember about 16 years ago my manager at the time coming into the office when on leave. I asked him why, and he said he didn’t have anything to do with his leave and had too much work on, so was coming in to clear his emails and sort other admin out. And he used 3-4 days of an admittedly big leave entitlement to do that. And back then there was no mobile technology that might have been the cause of this, as the report suggests may be now.

Even last year I worked in an organisation where lots of staff would book leave in blocks of two weeks but “pop in” on two or three days for an hour or so at a time to check in and do some basic admin. Again here the leave entitlements were big and there was no technology to facilitate this type of leaveism, so based on my two examples I’m not sure I agree that the rise of leaveism can be correlated with the availability of mobile technology and people’s inability to switch off.

That said, it is a worrying trend, and I’ve written before HERE about my experiments with switching off. Mark Ellis has also written a great book about it. But whilst mobile and digital technology facilitates this, it is only tapping into something that already exists in the employment relationship and psychological contract and giving it a conduit to happen easily. And we shouldn’t blame the technology itself for that.

Maybe we should talk more about the culture in the organisations that allows leaveism to happen, about the workplace hero’s that think sending emails late at night or at weekends is a sign of working hard or being busy, and about the expectations that senior leaders place on employees and how they lead by example.

I am a big believer in individual choice. If individuals wish to work late at night or at weekends, then if that’s genuinely their choice, great. Likewise if they want to take time off to go for a run during the day or do the school run, again great. And if doing a bit of work when on leave helps them, then also great but only if they take some time for themselves when NOT on leave. It’s about choice, and treating people like grownups.

So whilst the report highlights leaveism as a problem, it’s more a symptom of a different problem than a problem in itself, but nonetheless the report is right to point out some of the implications it has.

There’s a lot of work to do, and in EPIC I work with individuals and organisations to help them do that type of work. Talk to me if you need support.

The report is huge and there’s far more to it than what I’ve discussed here, so go and check it out.

Till next time…


PS in other news – and now we wait…my wife is 39 weeks pregnant, she’s already into her maternity leave, I’ve completed all my main commitments and have gone into my planned one-third capacity month long paternity leave, the house is ready, we’re all ready, and counting the days now…

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