Is Presenteeism Hindering Women’s Success?

When I left the corporate world over 9 years ago no one actually used the word ‘presenteeism‘. We  talked lots about absenteeism but over working? It didn’t feature in discussions yet it was there.

Apparently, the term “presenteeism” was coined by Professor Cary Cooper, a psychologist specializing in organisational management at Manchester University in the UK. It generally means people turning up for work when sick and is especially prevalent now as more people are fearful of losing their jobs in the current poor economic climate.

The Midnight Mail (Male?)

There have always been incidents of being present at work (and not necessarily working), and we all know the folk who send out work emails out at 2am to illustrate how dedicated they are to the cause. I even know of someone who set them on auto to go out then so it looked as if he was madly working away all the hours available!

The trouble is it becomes the corporate norm and suddenly people, men or women, who are not doing it are viewed as lacking in commitment, even when the organisation officially disowns the practice. I don’t have a gender breakdown, but generally speaking this is not a game women can play, as they are usually the ones with caring responsibilities; neither is it a game that women want to play.

Part Time Gain

What I do know is, that when I recruited part time staff (always women as it happens) they worked as hard and as productively as my full time staff and actually achieved more, hour by hour than their whole time equivalents. I have also watched members of staff who didn’t have to rush home at close of play, dawdle through parts of their day, secure in the knowledge that they could stay after normal hours and gain kudos for being ‘committed players’.

No Winners

The sad fact is no one really wins when this culture is prevalent. Sick people do not work well and get sicker; people feel compelled to stay late and work too long and get stressed as their life gets out of kilter; and women are at a disadvantage because even if it were desirable, they tend not to be part of the late clique and get labelled as not committed. And what we should be doing is questioning the whole idea of presenteeism and its role in corporate life

A very senior female executive confided in me recently:

I have given up the idea of trying to get a balance in my life. So many of the meetings don’t even begin until after 5pm. I’m paid a lot to do this job and I m now resigned to never getting home before 8pm most week day evenings unless I plan it in advance“.

The role models need to be at the top, modelling a good work and home balance. And if the ‘top’ were more gender balanced, we might just see some more sensible hours. No one can give of their best 12 hours a day on a regular basis; eventually folk will burn out and women (and so e men) who want to have a life outside of work, or who have to be home, will be disadvantaged and companies will lose excellent staff.

Photo Credit: Chris Johnson


Posted on May 23rd, 2011 by

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