The two enemies: absenteeism and presenteeism

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Posted by Matthew Stibbe

Buddhism talks about near enemies and far enemies. The far enemy is the opposite of some good quality while the near enemy is a kind of counterfeit of the real thing. For example, the far enemy of compassion is cruelty but its near enemy is pity. What has this got to do with business productivity? For me, this is a good way of thinking about absenteeism and presenteeism.

Managers worry about absenteeism

For managers, absenteeism is the obvious far enemy of a diligent, committed, happy team. It is what happens when people lie to the company (and sometimes themselves) about why they are not at work when they should be.

However it arises, it’s undesirable. If you need advice about how to combat chronic absenteeism, check out Turbine’s article on tackling employee overload.

But absenteeism has a near enemy too: presenteeism. This is where people are present in person but checked out mentally. It’s what happens when people tune out, lean back, dumb down and stop caring.

Dan Pink on the surprising truth of what motivates us
Managers should aspire to control. They should aim to inspire.

Leaders care about presenteeism

Both problems are often symptomatic of deeper organisational issues and a sign that change is both possible and necessary. Employee engagement is at the heart of personal and business growth. Society inflicts rigid schedules on unruly groups like prisoners and schoolchildren. So why in business do we inflict it upon rational adults?

Do you hire people who can’t manage their own time? Do intelligent, creative people turn into lazy, work-shy frauds in the office? No, of course not.

How can people fully be themselves if they have to follow someone else’s timetable? And are you providing your employees with important goals to work towards in the first place?

How to be a leader by Dan Pink

Companies that focus too much on ‘solving’ absenteeism might miss a bigger problem: presenteeism. The risk is that they end up curing the symptoms not the disease.

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