From Presenteeism to Productivity

From Presenteeism to Productivity

From Presenteeism to Productivity

Just as attendance at school is no evidence of education – or even of learning (somewhat different from education) – so attendance at your place of work gives no assurance of productivity. We all know the people whose daily office routine is designed to eliminate anything approaching work in favour of meetings, coffee breaks and gossip. These are not the only stumbling blocks to achievement. More serious is mis-prioritising, based on what is easiest.

Presenteeism is an ugly word for an ugly activity. It is when you are present but unproductive. Why does it happen so much? What can we do to prevent and cure it? Some salutary lessons learnt over many years tell me that it is more complex than sheer laziness. Not that we cannot all be lazy, too. Dealing with the admin minutiae of life is easy and gives us a mistaken sense of some achievement, even if we know it is an act of business cowardice.

Presenteeism manifests itself in many ways. Micromanaging is possibly the most dangerous. Here we appoint someone to do a job and then either do it for them or sit on their shoulder monitoring every move. It is also evident in those who fuss over the little things of life and turn arranging a meeting into a negotiating saga. Another way we see presenteeism is when someone produces a document, possibly consisting of only one piece of paper, and then carries it to the recipient and explains it. Good exercise, poor productivity. Can it be overcome?

As with all investigations the first thing to do is to establish the cause of this work-shyness. The more tactfully and gently you do this the more useful the information you will gather. Not everyone is inherently bone idle. Some people are simply not very bright. If that is the case, you need to educate and motivate them – or move them to a simpler job. Many employees are frightened of being creative for fear that they will be thought to be pushy or aggressive. In some Asian societies creativity is actually thought of as rude because it involves asking questions.

Is the environment or culture you have bred the cause of this? You can easily tell. If those who work for you cannot step up and express their views, ask about the business and get sensible answers, brainstorm effectively, laugh a lot, enjoy their work, then the answer is that your culture is to blame. If you are the boss, that is you fault. You must put it right. A good culture is one in which discipline is about what matters and not about some meaningless protocol. It is one in which the lines are few but those there are are very well drawn. I admired the Principal of a school which was recovering from gang-like behaviours. She was friendly with the pupils, open to discussing with them, happy to help, but her line of personal privacy was very clearly drawn – and observed.

My own experiment with management was to have a very relaxed but tightly focused style. Everyone knew what was expected of them and their rewards reflected their achievement of it. I handed out trust liberally. But if you broke that trust more than once you were finished. Those who worked ‘with me’ – rather than ‘for me’ – enjoyed the happiest of their working lives doing so. Thirty years later they still talk about it. And I am proud that the crew were better than the captain.

Examine every procedure; abolish 90% of them. Make process an aid to getting the drudge out of the way and allowing time for imagination. Throw open the windows, to allow everyone to see the world. Laugh a lot, it is the most energising thing you can do. Enjoy your work, don’t make it hell.

Follow these simple rules and you will abolish Presenteeism and enable Productivity.

And enjoy the good work life.