Does reward for positive employee attendance work?

Posted 29/07/2019 : By: Kathryn Pratt

Many organisations use rewards and recognition to show employees they appreciate and respect their positive attendance. In some cases, cash-based incentives or rewards work well to encourage attendance and discourage unnecessary absence. 

However, while this seems to be a positive approach to managing employee attendance, and while attendance looks ‘good on paper’, does this policy simply hide the underlying cause of sickness absence rates? And do incentives for attendance put more pressure on employees to attend work when they are ill?

The cost of absenteeism is well-known. What is less well-known is the cost of presenteeism, which more recently appears to be the greater threat to organisations productivity in the UK. Below we explore why reward for attendance is ineffective, the cost it can have on business long-term and much more – mental health wellbeing among staff.

What is presenteeism?

The term ‘presenteeism’ was originally used to describe the issue of employees going into work while not physically or mentally fit. The term has now been expanded to include employees who are simply disengaged and not altogether “present” in their role.

Presenteeism is one of the biggest threats to productivity and is a problem in most organisations in the UK. According to CIPD research, more than four-fifths of respondents (83% in 2019 and 86% in 2018) across all sectors and sizes of organisation, report they have observed ‘presenteeism’ in their organisation over the past 12 months.

The effects

While at first glimpse an employee coming into work despite feeling under the weather may seem like an applaudable act, research has shown that people are significantly less productive when they are unwell. In addition, they may be contagious which could have a knock-on effect of reduced productivity across the office. Furthermore, if employees are continually coming to work when sick (particularly if due to a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression), then it’s likely that their illness will steadily worsen.

Those who are disengaged are more likely to be careless with their work, making more mistakes and distracting their engaged co-workers. Attitude can also be just as catching as illness. Working alongside a colleague who is demotivated, unhappy or distanced can be an emotional drain on all members of the team, and this is likely to have a negative impact on the morale of the workplace.

How to prevent presenteeism

  1. Drop the practice. Encourage employees to take time off when they’re ill and allow them time to recover properly. This should prevent prolonged illnesses and allow them to return ready to work at their best.
  2. Find out why staff are disengaged. Regular conversations with employees help to develop a more healthy, authentic workplace relationship and provides opportunity for people to talk about any problems or questions they might have. Valued employees are engaged employees.
  3. Ask your staff to complete an anonymous satisfaction survey and find out areas you can improve on when it comes to employee engagement.
  4. Review your sick pay policy. Allow employees some paid time off sick to alleviate any pressure to come to work when ill or remove any incentives that encourage 100% attendance.
  5. A Health and Wellbeing CIPD survey showed 57% of employees would stay in their job longer if there was more effort put into their wellbeing. If these measures were in place, 58% said their work would be of higher quality. Think about providing employee wellbeing initiatives such as wellness days, support for employees who want to lose weight or give up smoking, staff exercise classes etc.

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