Digital presenteeism: Pretending to be there and pretending you care about them

Digital presenteeism: Pretending to be there and pretending you care about them

A surprising number of employees, determined to maintain their work-from-home status and aware that managers and others suspect remote employees of working less than their required hours, are practicing “digital presenteeism.” This involves remote employees demonstrating that they are hard workers by answering more emails, attending additional online meetings, and providing feedback at each meeting.

According to a recent Employment Trends report, the average remote employee works an extra 67 minutes a day in an effort to convince managers that they are fully engaged in their jobs. The same report reveals that a record 85% of managers struggle to know for sure if their remote employees are productive.

The problem: These actions erode morale and don’t equate to higher productivity. A middle manager who called me this week said, “Every manager I know views the weekly all-manager team meetings at our company as a waste of time. Yet my peers and I enthusiastically participate, offer ideas and claim our enthusiasm for the new initiatives that our leaders suggest. As a result, we’re all working on time-consuming task forces that are supposed to “move our business forward” when we could be doing meaningful work. »

Although a post-pandemic trend and one that has accelerated as many employees fear the potential for recession-related layoffs, digital presenteeism grew out of office presenteeism, which occurs when employees too ill or injured to function fully still show up for work. Although many “future of work” researchers have speculated that remote work will eliminate management’s focus on “butts in chairs” – the assumption that productive employees spend eight hours chained to their desks every day – presenteeism is not dead, it has mutated.

According to Harvard Business Review, presenteeism costs the US economy more than $150 billion a year in lost productivity, far exceeding the annual costs of absenteeism. Several other studies show that presenteeism costs employers 10 times what absenteeism costs.

The reasons why presenteeism harms workplaces are obvious. When employees show up for work less than fully functional, they work slower than usual, make more errors, and then have to redo shoddy work. These factors reduce employee productivity by a third or more.

Given the drawbacks of presenteeism, that it erodes productivity as well as employee morale, what steps should employers take?

Managers must learn to assess employee productivity by focusing on results, not activities. This requires a change of mindset for many. During a recent client project, I interviewed a supervisor who proudly considered himself “on the ball” and “on top”. As proof, he said, “I expect my employees to respond within an hour when I email them. If they don’t, they’re not at their desk doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

The net result: his employees obsessively watched their inboxes and saw their number one task as responding to his emails, killing initiative and morale, and eroding productivity and retention. The change needed for managers can be accomplished if they identify the results they see as meeting expectations and the achievements and actions they see as going beyond the minimum.

Then, the leaders must authorize the employees, except exceptions, to be disconnected at the end of the working day. A simple solution: they can save the emails they send to employees in their “drafts” folders until the start of the next working day. While managers send emails throughout the evening and weekend, many employees feel they have to sit in front of their computer screens all night to prove they take their jobs seriously.

Employees also need to make changes. Employees who proactively communicate upwards — “Here’s what I’m working on” — keep managers up to date on their results, roadblocks, and often missteps. Employees need to come into meetings with meaningful feedback and not just search their brains to be able to comment on whether or not they believe what they are saying.

Digital presenteeism is a trend with no positive purpose. Has it invaded your business?


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