Presenteeism: Is taking a day off work is good for you?
Andrew Grant joins Channel 7: The Morning Show, with Larry Emdur & Kylie Gillies to discuss why presenteeism is costing the Australian economy $34 billion per year in lost productivity.
Is taking the occasional day off work is good for you? Andrew Grant joins Channel 7: The Morning Show, with Larry Emdur & Kylie Gillies to discuss why presenteeism is costing the Australian economy $34 billion per year in lost productivity.
Absenteeism costs the Australian economy 34 billion dollars a year through lost productivity. A 2011 survey conducted by the A-C-T-U found that 51 per cent of employees still went to work when sick because they had too much to do. While 28 per cent felt pressured to attend work. Sick days accommodate for employees when feeling under the weather – but – should the same apply for mental health. In recent years, there’s been a growing conversation around the issue — with experts encouraging workers to manage stress — by taking personal days to relax and recharge. So, can taking the occasional day off work be good for you?
For more on this we’re joined by innovation leadership consultant, Andrew Grant.
1) Do you think we should be encouraging people to take health days?
Yes we should. These health days are critical, and they are currently called the weekend! However, the principle behind this is the most important factor, that is that if we don’t take regular breaks we become ineffective and uncreative. Our brains literally burn out. And yet we are being expected to work harder and faster without breaks. We’re being asked to do more with less. Multitasking, for example, which is a common way of coping with this pressure, can reduce productivity by up to 2 hours a day, and can kill twice as many brain cells as smoking marijuana!
When we are stressed our body produces corticosteroids that kill cells in the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and can provide a foundation for more advanced thinking, and these cells cannot be replaced. It also impacts the striatum, which is responsible for flexibility, so we revert to habitual ways of thinking and behaving and can no longer operate at or full potential.
Research shows that our brains need down time to recharge: whether that’s physically leaving the office at lunch or having a ‘health’ day, we need to recognise our own threshold and feel we have the permission to manage the pressure. If you need to take an extra day off in the middle of the week it could be an indication that you’re already burnt out, so that’s a pretty serious warning sign. Perhaps there are people watching this show in this time slot because they’ve needed to take a day off for health reasons, so this might be relevant for a number of your viewers!
2) In your line of work you help companies and everyday workers to address the pressures that stifle productivity and creativity. How do you do that?
We’ve been working with a range of organisations internationally for over 20 years from the CEO level down to the more average worker, and we’ve consistently found pressure to be an issue. We identify the cultural factors of the organisation that can create these pressured, along with the personal mental state people are in.
There are usually both internal (our self talk) and external (company culture) elements at work here. We have designed simulations that help to reveal the issues in an engaging and safe environment, and then address them head on through providing practical culture change recommendations for leaders and practical skills to help individuals manage the pressures better.
3) You have identified a number of other factors that can also block productivity and creativity, but you say pressure can be the most insidious. Why is that?
In our book we describe 7 key blocks to productivity and creativity. Most of these we know are bad – such as a control and stifling bureaucracy at the cultural level, or apathy and disengagement at the individual level. And yet somehow we are proud of being busy.
Whenever you ask people how they are most people immediately answer “busy”, but what we don’t realise is that by boasting about our busyness we are actively inviting pressure into our lives – bringing it home with us etc. We wear pressure as a badge of honour!
4) Do you think it’s necessary for workplaces to provide personal days on top of annual leave days for when workers need to recharge their minds?
Again it’s the principle that’s most important –recognising when people need a break and encouraging them to take it to change the whole culture around the ways we deal with stress. Using this ‘breakaway principle’ has been found to increase engagement and effectiveness. It might just be sending people out to lunch to get them away from their desk, or stopping for compulsory office yoga breaks during the day. Or it might be that office workers are encouraged to take an extra ‘health day’ off every month or so. Some proactive successful companies even have pods where people can take a quick nap. You might have heard that Richard Branson caught an employee napping in the office recently, and instead of berating him suggested he receive the ‘employee of the month’ award for using down time wisely! We are no good to ourselves or anyone else when we are burnt out or heading for burn out.
5) Do workplaces have a culture of pressuring employees to show up to work when they’re not feeling the best?
Yes – not always deliberately, but it is certainly a trend. There can be a very subtle pressure, or a more direct pressure to get the job done at all costs. If leaders are not actively encouraging people to take time out when they need it, they might be inadvertently contributing to the problem.
6) On the other hand — some employers bear the cost for those who ‘chuck sickies? Can they safeguard against this?
What we have discovered from working with both successful and poor companies all over the world is that there are often 2 choices:
- 1) to distrust employees and treat them like children by rewarding and punishing them on the assumption of incompetence, OR
- 2) to treat them like adults who believe in the company values and vision based on an assumption that they will strive for excellence and take responsibility for their actions.
Sadly, since we know that only 21% of the workforce is truly engaged, many companies have now got themselves in a bind where they need to invoke rules and procedures to keep people from potentially abusing the system. Successful companies that lead from a strong vision and have employee engagement will also have a strong commitment and loyalty from their employees – so that is the best long term solution.
7) When our minds are rested, how productive are we compared to burnt-out workers? How long does it then take to get the brain into momentum?
It seems we are constantly operating in a state of emergency, producing adrenaline to help us to be ready for ‘flight or fight’. This mode of our brain was designed for emergencies. The problem is most of us think that all day at work is an emergency, and so it will wear us down over the long term.
It has been found to take 25 minutes of pure focus to get into a state of ‘flow’, where we can be highly creative and productive, but how often does any worker get the chance to focus on one thing for that period of time?! If we are being interrupted constantly by messages and constant expectations we can unfortunately go hours, days, weeks, or even months and years without ever experiencing the joy of that sort of motivating and enabling flow process.
Workers who are regularly rested, on the other hand, will typically feel more motivated and engaged in the work they’re doing, and will therefore achieve more and be happier over the long term.
This article is based on The Huffington Post article by Emily Blatchford Why Taking The Occasional Day Off Work Is Good For You.