No Image Available

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Presenteeism: A sign of bad management?


John Pope looks at the idea of 'presenteeism' and argues that L&D should be able to spot the signs of workplace stress.

I have seen several articles on ‘Presenteeism’, a new word for me, though I guess the issue has been around for some time. It seems fashionable: I have seen advertisements for expensive seminars on the subject and I wonder when it will be a major topic in management programmes or part of a business school’s course. There is also plenty written about work-place stress.

As I understand it, ‘Presenteeism’ is a state where people are at work when they should not be. That covers many reasons including but not necessarily limited to:
  • Illness, when they should be resting or recovering, or when they might infect others, or be a hygiene risk
  • Working over-long hours, often habitually because they are over-loaded, having been given or taken on too many commitments; or do not have the tools or skills to do the work; or are the only ones who can do some important part of the work, or have spun the job out for the extra pay
  • Being disorganised either by others or because they are that way inclined so that important work gets put off to the end of the day and beyond
  • Having a backlog of work which grows and is only reduced by working longer hours
  • Doing work which is not really necessary
  • Being happier or getting more satisfaction from their job than they get from work or home.
Work-place stress is much the same, with the addition of uncertainty, constant changing of objectives and priorities, and part-completed urgent jobs put aside. A familiar picture, not conducive to efficiency, achieving objectives, health, home-life and happiness. If unchecked it can lead to personal collapse or business disasters.

The root causes

Those are symptoms and general causes. Some people are very well organised, some are not; some people need close supervision, some do not; some work is straightforward and easily handled, and some is not. Poor selection, or fitting people to work where they do not get enough help and guidance from their managers, is at the root of many of the problems of ‘presenteeism’.
So why do managers fail to put enough time and effort into managing their people? I can only suppose that they believe their performance is assessed on what they do themselves, rather than what their team achieves. Perhaps senior managers are guilty of noticing a subordinate manager’s personal achievements, advice and contributions, rather than those of that manager’s team. At any rate, it is clear that too few managers spend enough time in guiding training and developing their people; some see that task as taking the time which they feel they must devote to ‘their own work’.

And the relevance to L&D and HR?

HR as they get around the organisation, making regular visits to the workplace so as to be well-informed, can judge how well an office or a worksite is managed. They can spot the symptoms of the over-loaded manager or someone who is not in full control of his operations. These impressions can generally be supported by discussions with more senior managers. They will generally be confirmed by remarks coming out at annual appraisal or performance review.
L&D will get an impression of how a manager performs from the annual performance review he makes of his people and the development actually given as a result of the previous year’s review. They can help managers learn how to develop their people, and to be better at organising their team’s work.
HR can supply some pressure on managers at performance reviews. The questions to be added to the review form should ask: “What has the manager done to train and develop each members of the team and with what results?”, “Whom has he prepared to take over?” Both should be able to get a fair impression of how that manager manages the team and how many are capable of filling that manager’s shoes if need be.
And both working together should be able to identify by observation, backed up by measures of performance what development and training or other action is needed, and advise senior management. Simple, obvious – why don’t we do it? Too busy I suppose.

Good managers don’t suffer from ‘Presenteeism’

Why? There are some really good managers – I worked for one once and observed an outstanding another over the years, both were women. How do such managers work? They get out of their offices or hidey-holes and spend time with each member of the team, regularly, face-to-face, not text-to-text. Carefully and in an unthreatening way, often unstructured and in any convenient sequence, they find out:
 how the individual feels, and discover any problems and concerns
how the job is going, what difficulties there are, what improvements can be made, whether it uses the individuals talents
  • How the job could be improved
  • What work the individual would like to do, what new experience they need
  • What training would be useful, whether the last training was useful in practice
  • Any tensions, worries in the workplace, general views
  • What difficulties could be resolved if only the management would
Good managers understand about their people’s personal circumstances as well, but without prying. Yes, this takes up a bit of time but the good manager builds up a good picture of the individual, the job, over the course of time, which is very valuable. In return the manager has to be able to answer questions, however foolish they might seem.
Now, all this is obvious if you want your people to be engaged: if it is done well not only will you be unlikely to suffer from ‘Presenteeism’. You will pick up the signs of work-place stress and be able to do something about it before it is too late. Above all you will also learn much to your advantage and not get unpleasant HR surprises.
John Pope has been a management consultant for over 40 years and has worked to improve the development and performance of businesses and managers at all levels for most of his career. To know more about John’s work and wide range of services please visit the website: His book ‘Winning Consultancy Business ’ a step by stepguide  to getting the right work was published in July and is now available through his website. Get in touch with him at [email protected]

No Image Available

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!