Presenteeism: the impact of workers feeling pressure to work overtime

The latest findings from The Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that the UK’s productivity rate is currently the second lowest in the G7, having stagnated since the 2008 financial crisis. Calculated by judging the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) output per hour worked in the country, the UK’s productivity is currently 20% lower than pre-recession trends forecasted.

With this in mind, maximising productivity is on the agenda for employers and employees alike – but the efficiency of the measures being taken is up for debate. One common practice in the UK is working overtime, meaning 38% of employees are under the pressure of presenteeism – feeling obliged to stay at work longer in a bid to appear more productive.

43% of employees stay behind due to their fear of being seen as slacking. Unfortunately, it seems this is confirmed by employers, as 31% of bosses claim leaving on time reflects badly on individuals.

On average, employees work for an extra 1.3 hours across their working week. The extent of presenteeism is different across cities: Birmingham workers suffer the most, with 44% feeling the need to stay behind at work, followed by Nottingham at 43%. Newcastle and Leeds are tied with 40% of workers pressuring themselves to stay at their desks. London is also slightly above the UK’s presenteeism average, at 39%.

As salary increases, the pressure of presenteeism also rises – 58% of workers earning over £50,000 are concerned bosses and colleagues think they don’t work hard enough if they leave on time.

Is presenteeism productive?

The issue is that putting more hours into work is not necessarily the same as being productive. Interestingly, both employers and employees recognise this. Despite the fact 31% of employers expect workers to stay behind, a third (36%) believe reducing the working day would benefit productivity levels.

Clearly, working longer hours is not necessarily the solution when it comes to productivity. So how could this be improved? 35% of employees claim a salary increase would help, as well as increased annual leave (22%) and 18% desire flexible working. A mere 3% of employees believe their employer has already done what they can to optimise productivity.

Employers who are already boosting productivity without encouraging overtime are doing so in multiple ways:

  • 26% of bosses simply do not expect employees to remain at work longer than their contracted hours
  • 25% offer flexible working options
  • 25% actively ensure teams are busy and engaged
  • 16% of employers are reducing the email flow
  • 14% are introducing social media blackout hours
  • 14% provide quiet places to work

Employees say they are also able to work from home (12%) and that they are encouraged by their employers to take lunch breaks away from the confines of their desks (10%).

 We spoke to Productivity Expert Grace Marshall about her thoughts on how presenteeism can negatively affect productivity. She said:

“Presenteeism thrives in a culture that honours ‘busy’ and busy is a poor judge of productivity. Unfortunately, our hard work ethic in the UK often equates commitment to working harder for longer. This inadvertently places more importance on how many hours we spend at work rather than what we achieve as a result.

Bosses who judge their workers by how many meetings they attend, emails they send and hours they work send a signal that visibility is more important than productivity. But what looks like work isn’t always productive. In fact, it could be creating more work! 

Companies who give their workers the incentive and flexibility to determine how they do their best work – and reward them based on the impact and value they create rather than the hours they put in – are the ones who will see the best returns in productivity, with a much more focused workforce, greater job satisfaction and improved work life balance.”

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