There is a long number of companies that after the pandemic with remote work now want staffers back at the office full time but two researchers at London School of Economics argue that presenteeism is outdated. It made sense before the third industrial revolution, when productivity was dominated by industrial processing and assembly lines. “Today, the evidence does not support being on-site every day of the week”, they write in a blog post for LSE Business Review.
Earlier studies say that 39% of global knowledge workers will work hybrid by the end of this year, up from 37% in 2022. Only 9% of global knowledge workers will work fully remote, according to a forecast by marketing and research firm Gartner. In the US, 51% of knowledge workers will work hybrid and 20% fully remote.
The LSE researchers warn firms to avoid the pitfalls of presenteeism, when employees feel pressured to be seen in the office, even when working from home would be more productive.
The researchers are Grace Lordan and Jasmine Virhia. Lordan is associate professor in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Sciences and founder and director of LSE’s The Inclusion Initiative. Virhia is postdoctoral researcher in behavioural science..
“Presenteeism doesn’t enable productivity and is in fact costly to organisations. Estimates show that presenteeism cuts individual productivity by one-third or more.. It causes people to become less engaged with their work and reduces their overall job satisfaction”, they write.
“Presenteeism also increases psychological and physical risk factors associated with illness, resulting in greater absenteeism. When you force employees into the office, consider how much value is truly being added to the organisation’s culture and acknowledge that presenteeism is likely doing more harm than good.
Of one hundred people interviewed across financial and professional services in the UK, 95% reported that hybrid working is their preference, with 35% prioritising in-person work for creative problem-solving with colleagues, they write referring to a survey by LSE’s The Inclusion Initiative.
“Notably, none reported fully remote as a preference and the five per cent wanting to be in the office full-time said that it enabled them to clearly separate their work and home life or increased their on-the-job learning opportunities.”
They write that only eight per cent of Fortune 100 companies require full-time office attendance.
“This has direct cost reduction benefits, with 26% of Fortune 100 companies managing to reduce their office space. It also benefits employees, since the majority prefers a “remote first” approach.”
The researchers offer four tips for leaders to let go of presenteeism:
- Narrative vs necessity: Leaders should evaluate whether their expectations of people being present in the office is based on “the way things have always been done.” If so, it’s highly likely that a distorted view of productivity exists within your organisation. The longer this continues, the less likely you are to attract talent. You may even find your employees choosing to work elsewhere. High levels of presenteeism are concurrent with decreased commitment to the organisation, often resulting in increased turnover intention.
- Output over observation: Delineate what outputs your team members are expected to produce within a given timeframe. Communicate clearly that colleagues should contact you if they get stuck or need extra support. Providing autonomy in this way not only demonstrates a leader’s willingness to delegate control to employees but also provides employees with decision-making latitude.
- Valuable not vague: Requirements to be present in the office or on-site should be valuable for operations and employees alike. Leaders should have a clear grasp on when team members need to be on-site to fulfil operations and should provide a work structure around which employees are free to plan their schedules and tasks.
- Trust and time: Psychologically safe work environments are founded on high levels of trust. When your employees feel they can speak their minds without fear of repercussions or reprimand, they are more likely to be honest with their working preferences and how they prioritise their time to fulfil responsibilities and operations.