Feature: Avoid the Trap of Presenteeism

Feature: Avoid the Trap of Presenteeism

Feature: Avoid the Trap of Presenteeism

We’re all familiar with the negative implications of absenteeism. We learn early on-while we’re still students-that truancy has consequences. At school, it can lead to suspension; at work, however, the response is more severe and likely to be permanent. Fail to show up for work, and your employer will probably show you the door.

But, what about when a person shows up for work, but doesn’t do anything? This situation is now called “presenteeism.” An employee is present in body, but absent in mind and spirit. Some of us actually think that such behavior doesn’t have any consequences. As they see it, their job is to be there, to put in their eight hours. As long as they’re present and accounted for, they’re safe. There’s nothing an employer can do, nor for that matter, is there anything an employer would want to do. Why? Because the workers who show up have held up their end of the bargain-they’ve come to work.

And that’s the key. That term “to work” is not a propositional phrase. It doesn’t mean that we are being paid to get ourselves to a certain location called work. It means we come to the location prepared and committed to perform an activity called work. That’s what an employer expects: the application of a person’s skills, knowledge and experience in an activity that will serve to advance the organization’s success.

Even activity is not enough, however. Effort without results is like running in place. It gets a person and, by extension, their employer nowhere. So when someone comes to work and does just enough to get by, when they interrupt the application of their skills, knowledge and experience to do something personal or non-work related, they are diminishing the outcome the employer expects. In a very real sense, they are undermining the contribution their employer needs from them in order to be successful, and it is that contribution for which it is paying.

Now, I know it’s easy to get lulled into the notion that taking a little time here or there doesn’t hurt anything, and perhaps, a little time doesn’t. But, when you begin to let a little time get to be a little more time, bad habits emerge. What do these bade habits look like? Unfortunately, a stroll through almost any workplace today will give you plenty of examples. You’ll find employees who:

  • go online from their desks so they can shop, chat, check fantasy sports scores, plan vacations, check movie schedules-you fill in the blank;
  • take an extended lunch break so they can hit the mall, meet a friend, run errands, take the dog to the vet-you fill in the blank;
  • conduct extended telephone calls with friends, neighbors, lovers, ex-lovers, parents, home business partners-you fill in the blank; or
  • wander the halls to find a water cooler where they can find others who enjoy gossiping, griping, exchanging recipes, talking about television shows-you fill in the blank.
  • The people who engage in such behavior are present but not delivering the full measure of the contribution for which they are being paid. In my book, that’s presenteeism. And in today’s workplace, it’s increasingly a ticket to the unemployment line. Employers are beginning to realize that those who withhold or undercut what they are supposed to be delivering on-the-job hurt the organization in multiple ways:

  • they obviously shortchange the employer by providing less of a contribution than the employer purchased with their pay;
  • they also undermine the morale of their co-workers who, more often than not, have to pick up the slack for their sub-par performance; and
  • they sabotage the return that the organization’s shareholders or owners deserve for their investment in the organization.
  • No organization can sustain that level of harm and succeed. It must and will expel those who are present without performance.

    So, how can you make sure that you’re delivering the contribution your employer expects and needs? Here are a couple of suggestions that may help:

    Conduct a private, personal audit of your own work. Keep a diary of what you do hour-by-hour on-the-job for a couple of workdays. Try to keep your schedule as normal as possible and try to be as honest as you can about what you would typically be doing as the days unfold. Then, re-read the diary and see where you might be unconsciously (or consciously) undermining your results. Where, for example, are 15 minute breaks turning into hour-long rants over the cubicle wall or in your personal blog? Find these performance drains and eliminate them. It may take some practice-in many cases, you’ll be breaking a habit-but it can be done. And you should do it.

    Ask your supervisor for an informal performance appraisal. Because supervisors seldom get such requests, it’s important that you explain upfront why you’re asking for the meeting and what you hope to accomplish. You’re not trying to set yourself up for a pay raise or promotion, but rather to make sure your work is aligned with the boss’s expectations. The session is a genuine effort on your part to get some feedback on how your contribution on-the-job is viewed and what you might do to improve it. Then, once you have that feedback, do something with it. Set one or more near term performance goals that will enable you to implement the suggestions from your supervisor. At the end of the period, conduct a private, personal audit of your work to see how you did. Keep at it until you can be sure you’ve met or exceeded the results your boss expects.

    Listen to a co-worker who has it right. Identify a fellow employee who is recognized as a high performer in your organization. This person need not hold a senior position or even be someone you know well. What’s important is that they are seen, by both their colleagues and the organization, as a key contributor. Ask this person to join you for lunch and explain that you’re trying to upgrade your own performance. Then, probe how they prepare for and execute their time on-the-job. You’re not asking them for any secrets, but simply for their advice on how best to organize your workday. In most cases, they’ll be flattered you asked and, in some cases, may even end up being an ongoing source of counsel and assistance. Said another way, you may just find yourself a mentor.

    Presenteeism is a self-inflicted wound. It can be caused by a misunderstanding of what employment actually means or by inadvertently falling into bad habits on-the-job. The wound is only fatal, however-a situation Donald Trump describes as “You’re fired”-if it’s ignored and untreated.

    Thanks for reading,


    Section Two: Site News You Can Use

    CareerBuilder.com joined hundreds of other job boards and career portals in providing employment services to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Called Katrina.jobs-that’s dot.jobs, not dot.com-its site provides access to full time, part time, contractor and intern employment opportunities. Other employment sites are also doing their part; among those that have sent us information are HealtheCAREERS Network, The Destiny Group, and PennEnergyJobs.com.

    The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) released a sobering portrait of America’s defined benefit pension plans. According to the agency’s data, the value of pensions at companies deemed to be financially weak has risen from just $3.8 billion in 2000 to $96 billion in 2004. Will these plans fail? PBGC says it is “reasonably possible” that they will. What should you do? Painful as it may be, set up your own supplemental retirement savings plan and carve out a contribution each and every paycheck. Unfortunately, experience shows that you simply cannot count on your employer to deliver the pension it promised, and the government’s “guarantee” of that pension only provides pennies on the dollar.

    TheLadders.com introduced a new feature on its site that you may want to try out. While still undergoing testing, it provides a new kind of experience when you search the site’s job database. Why? Because you never have to hit the Search button. Your results are presented automatically even as you enter your keywords or search criteria. Although it could do with a better name-they’re calling it LarrySearch-the feature definitely cuts down on the finger twiddling you would normally do while you wait for a search engine to find what you want.

    Rx Career Center launched a redesigned version of its site for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and pharmacy industry professionals. The site now includes features designed for both those who are in an active job search and those who are not-but are looking to advance themselves in their field.

    Volunteers for Careers launched its site to provide free resume writing, career coaching and counseling services to individuals who lost their jobs as a direct result of Hurricane Katrina. All you have to do is register with the site, and you will be matched with a volunteer career practitioner who will then assist you with your specific needs. The site and supporting program is a collaborative effort of the Association of Career Professionals International, Association of Online Career and Resume Professionals, National Career Development Association, National Resume Writers’ Association, Parachute Associates, Professional Resume Writing & Research Association, as well as technology support organizations, Databasepro.net and AcornCreative.com. It was coordinated by the Career Masters Institute.

    Section Three: Site Profiles

    Site Insite … how well do you know the Web’s 40,000+ job boards?

    1. You’re a respiratory therapist looking to move from private practice to a hospital in your area. Which of the following sites would let you breathe easily about finding some great opportunities?

  • AARC.org
  • MedHunters.com
  • HealthJobsUSA.com
  • BreatheDeep.com
  • 2. You’re an experienced buyer ready for more responsibility in a corporate purchasing department. Which of the following sites would offer you a good deal?

  • NextLevelPurchasing.com
  • BuyingJobs.com
  • EmploymentGuide.com
  • TopUSAJobs.com
  • 3. You’ve just graduated as a veterinary technician and want to find a clinic that specializes in canine care. Which of the following sites would be your best friend in locating good prospects?

  • ScienceJobs.com
  • VetJobs.com
  • AnimalJobs.com
  • Vet.com
  • (answers below)

    Site Spotlite … from the pages of WEDDLE’s 2005/6 Guides and Directories

    American Marketing Association Online Job Board


    Post full time jobs: Yes

    Post part time, contract or consulting jobs: Yes – All

    Distribution of jobs: National-USA

    Number of jobs: 200+

    Salary levels of jobs: $51-75K/year, $76-100K/year

    Offer a job agent: Yes

    Resume database: Yes

    How long are resumes stored: 1 year-renewable

    Restrictions on who can post: Limited to those in the field

    Other services for job seekers: Career information, Links to other sites with career information

    Answers to Site Insite

    1. All but BreatheDeep.com, a portal site for charities “with lung-sensitive missions.”

    2. All of them.

    3. All but VetJobs.com, an employment site serving military veterans and their families.