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?