Exciting News: Convene is combining with SaksWorks. Learn more about our expansion plans here


Should I Stay or Should I Go? Fighting “Presenteeism” at the Office

Posted January 10, 2019 By Jonas Altman

This dude strolls into work with the flu. Tissues strewn all over his desk, you can’t stop thinking of those germs jumping into your coffee cup. It’s a form of presenteeism—the feeling of obligation to be at work physically, but completely checked out mentally.

Presenteeism is a phenomenon that plagues many companies and employees. Workers feel a need to stay on the grind to impress their colleagues or so as not be looked upon poorly by their boss, even though they’re unable to perform effectively. But whoever said that arriving early, toiling away through lunch, or staying late at the office makes you a better worker? In fact there is strong evidence that you aren’t your most creative nor productive while at your desk.

In the United States alone, the loss in productivity due to presenteeism is a whopping $150 billion a year. Further drags include more mistakes on the job, taking longer to complete tasks, poorer quality of work, lower morale, burnout, anger, resentment and impaired social functioning.

For many people, presenteeism is a function of poor sick leave policies that leave employees with no choice but force themselves into work to maintain steady pay. But for salaried employees with suitable sick leave, presenteeism is born from poor management that places a higher value on facetime than output or employee wellbeing.

What’s required today is a culture that values results over hours on the clock. Useless posturing must give way to purposeful productivity.

Here are three ways you can fight presenteeism at your office.


Let Them Move

Want to create a more innovative culture? Give employees more freedom.

“A culture where people feel they can be authentic in their whole selves, but also where they feel they don’t have to be present, banishing that sense of presenteeism in an office,” explains Monica Parker, the Director of Workplace at office design firm Morgan Lovell. Instead of feeling chained to their desks, workers should be free to move fluidly within their work settings. The goal should be to feel empowered, not restricted, by technology or a cubicle.

Yet fixed technology such as a desktop computer, still outnumbers mobile technology such as a laptop 2:1 in the workplace. Without giving sufficient discretion to workers to control their work, companies actually curb productivity. It’s precisely why keeping in motion is the bedrock of Apple’s headquarters. It’s time we appreciate Friedrich Nietzsche’s claim that, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”

Every company will have limits to the amount of freedom it’s willing to grant. When Marissa Mayer called workers back to the office at Yahoo, it abruptly ended the flexibility implicit in working from home. A few years later, Matt Mullenweg went the other way, getting rid of the San Francisco Headquarters of his company Automattic.

“Work over which people exercise some discretion and control leads to cognitive flexibility and to an engaged orientation to self and society; in contrast, excessively monitored, oppressively supervised working conditions lead to distress,” writes Psychologist Barry Schwartz citing a classic article by Melvin Kohn and Carmi Schooler. Giving control to workers has a lot less to do with whether or not we’re required to come to an office and much more to do with how we feel about our work—the contribution we make in whatever shape it may take.


Make Mindfulness a Weapon

All too often, folks stay at work even when they’re getting absolutely bupkis done. Their brains are worn out for the day, but no one dares to leave before the clock strikes that magic number, or the boss leaves first.

Just because you’re tapping away on your keyboard doesn’t actually mean you’re working efficiently.

Enter mindfulness at work. If you’re new to the idea, mindfulness is simply the practice of being fully present in the moment—not daydreaming or entertaining other thoughts in your head.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of more mindfulness at work is making better decisions about how to best direct your energy. Research demonstrates that mindfulness meditation impairs task motivation but not performance. In other words, you’ll reluctantly comply and fill out the pointless administration form when you know you’re focus and energy could better be applied to preparing that pitch for a new client. Compound this awareness over time and you may begin to question whether a job could be simplified, completed more efficiently, made obsolete by technology, or possibly dispensed with altogether.

The clarity of thought that mindfulness brings individuals also translates to lasting business success. Beth Comstock, former Vice Chair of General Electric, knows this. She developed The Culture Club. It’s a multi-level team in her business unit to help with transformational change and leadership. She gives leaders a ‘bounty’ to tell her something that she really doesn’t want to hear. With this level of candour, leaders can identify which inefficiencies can be either eliminated or reduced. In this way, worker well-being is promoted as well as business innovation.


Elevate the Spirit of Work

Most Americans are ‘psychologically unattached to their work and their company.’ Instead of simply looking at how we spend our time, we should be aware of how we’re funnelling our working spirit. One way to keep morale high is through a shorter work week.

“Forty-hour work weeks are a relic of the Industrial Age. Knowledge workers function like athletes -train and sprint, then rest and reassess,” says AngelList founder, Naval Ravikant.

The benefits of a shorter work week are extensive: fewer sick days, cost savings, and better work/life integration. This revised view of work looks to quality, not quantity. And with an enhanced sense of self-respect, workers also tend to be more creative, productive, committed, and collaborative. Would you want your intensive care nurse taking care of you at the end of a 12-hour shift or at the beginning of a four-hour one?

I certainly know which one I’d pick.


Convene is revolutionizing the real estate industry. See how we support companies in successfully attracting and retaining the world's best tenants and talent, while creating environments that drive performance.