Got Presenteeism?

Absenteeism has been a concern in businesses for decades. HR departments are always trying to find ways to reduce absenteeism.

But there is a new phenomenon in the modern corporate work world. It is called “presenteeism”.

The concept is that workers are bearing long commutes and showing up and sitting in their drab cubicles like good little wage slavers, but they are not being productive. They are physically present, but they are not engaged.

This is generally for two main reasons:

1. People are showing up sick, and less productive, because they are afraid or think they are too important to call in sick or work from home. Then they get others sick and the cycle perpetuates.

2. People are just plain unhappy with the modern work culture.

Let’s focus on #2. After all, our evolutionary genes are not cut out for the modern corporate culture.

Our bodies and minds did not evolve to adequately handle long commutes, traffic jams, unrealistic deadlines, micro-managing, specialization, competition, lack of movement, lack of free time, lack of creativity, lack of fresh air, sunshine and connection to nature. The list could be much, much longer, but the point has been made.

Our minds and bodies are meant to handle a different set of stressors. The adrenaline pumping fight or flight stress of a predatory encounter or the physiological and emotional stress of not having a regular abundant food supply.

Nowadays, we are inundated with constant stress from morning until evening, most days of the week, with a lack of movement to burn off the adrenaline coursing through our systems. And now, with “food” in abundance, many times snacking is overused as a coping strategy for the stress and/or boredom. [“Food” is in quotes, because, let’s face it, how often does someone grab for an apple or a celery stick when they are looking for comfort?]

So, when our bodies and minds get to the breaking point, we end up with medical problems or we feel we need time off to “recharge” or “find ourselves”. This is generally referred to as a leave of absence, because a week or two of vacation, just doesn’t cut it. By using this phrase, it has been made adequately clear by corporations that we will be ‘absent’ while our peers are climbing the ladder.

So, what if we reframed this? What if we said we wanted to take a “leave of presence“? What if we were to immerse ourselves in the present, to satisfy our inner ‘musts’, and not just societal ‘shoulds’? This may look different for each individual. It could be travel, writing a book, starting a project, learning something new, or just living in the moment and being a better parent, friend or partner. Then we could come back and be present and engaged in our work again. What if we were able to do this every year, or at least between projects? Or, what if professionals had the option for part time work so that we tip the work-life balance to be life-work balance?

The productivity benefits of this strategy would probably far outweigh any complications with logistics, managing and HR coordination.

What do you think? Do you need a leave of presence? Or are you already fully engaged in most parts of your life?



8 thoughts on “Got Presenteeism?

  1. I would love to take a sabbatical at work and pursue some other interests. Or I’d love to get into a department that I was more passionate about and see if I could add some value. I think too often we are pigeon holed and told that we can’t go outside our domains b/c we’re too valuable. I think that sucks a lot of creativity out and makes us like caged animals. We need to be able to explore and try and fail on multiple projects. Look at Edison. He tried a ton of different things and failed multiple times while trying to create the light bulb 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know what you mean about being pigeon holed. There is a concept called ‘scanners’. Barbara Sher has a couple of books on this subject. The preface is that, as humans, we evolved with many different skills, so specialization at work doesn’t fit well with many of us. Back in Edison’s day, they were called inventors or renaissance men, but now it might be called ADD. haha… Also, The New American Dream coined a term called the “corporate lattice” as a substitute for the corporate ladder, for those who want more career flexibility.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The reason I like my job so much is essentially I have the freedom to roam across multiple areas. Every day is something new which I never know what it will be. Without that I’d hate my job probably. I have a choice on working from home or work. Sadly I do still feel pressure to go in,


    • That’s awesome that you have variety like that. I’ve been fortunate to have somewhat of a variety, but not a ton. That is interesting that you still feel the pressures to go into the office. I personally like going into the office a couple of days of week, but that’s it. I’m just curious where the pressure is coming from… is it management pressure? Peer pressure? Or, do you just feel guilty, as the corporate world is good at making us feel? 🙂


  3. I like this idea. While a full leave is not a realistic option for me at the moment, I do like to take preemptive sick days from time to time. If I feel my body getting worn down or my mind getting increasingly frustrated and unfocused due to overwork, I will take a sick day just to recharge. Depending on the need at the time, I may just catch up on sleep and rest or I may re-energize by working on a personal passion project. Plus, with preemptive sick days I can actually plan them out for days where I have the least pressing work rather than waiting until I am actually sick and getting stuck in the first category of people you mention or falling behind and getting stressed.


    • I agree on taking sick days to recharge… some people call them ‘mental health days’. 🙂 When I was in the corporate world, I did everything possible to use up all my sick days, even if I wasn’t sick. Unfortunately, the corporate culture in America just doesn’t provide enough days off to maximize health.


  4. I like the way you think 🙂

    It does seem ironic that our society sacrifices productivity for the sake of “productivity”…


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