Work is a huge part of life, which means employee well-being must go beyond the physical.
“Presenteeism” describes the problem of employees who are physically on the job but not functioning well due to illness or other factors, including mental or emotional problems. While some employers might celebrate employees who push themselves to show up no matter what, it’s actually quite counterproductive; it’s estimated that presenteeism costs companies about $226 billion annually. Employees report that they lose an average of 57.5 days a year to presenteeism while taking an average of just four sick days a year — and on average only using about half of the vacation time they earn.
One driver of presenteeism is a lack of connection. The Workplace Benefits Report created by Bank of America Merrill Lynch in 2017 reported that 59 percent of younger workers wanted a career that they felt connected to their lifestyle goals. “People are searching for jobs that have more meaning than a paycheck,” says Jason Brown, chief marketing officer at Marketplace Chaplains, a nonprofit company that provides chaplains to companies to serve the spiritual needs of their employees. “They’re looking for places that care about them as people, not just an employee identification number or to do a robotic task.”
Brown sees a clear business case for expanding the concept of employee well-being to include emotional and spiritual needs. “If people are healthier physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, they will come to work on time, with less baggage, less stress, better able to work with others and to be more productive,” he says, “all while finding real meaning in their work. This is especially true when working with others who are well and who are a positive influence on their lives during the day where they spend most of their time.”
The key is work-life balance. “A work-life balance strategy is essential, as so many people take work home or it follows them electronically,” Brown says. “Learning to prioritize workload and to rely on others for collaboration and teamwork is key.”
In addition to praising employees for coming into work even when sick or suffering, companies have been blurring the line for years between work and personal time, offering employees perks like games, meals, and other on-site activities designed to make spending more time at the office enticing. A recent survey found that 94 percent of professionals spend more than 50 hours a week at work, but this focus on time in the office is backfiring into presenteeism. As employees spend more and more time at work, the need for well-being that goes beyond sick days grows.
A listening ear
Other resources companies are increasingly offering their employees include care partners who are there just to listen, including chaplains offering care, hope, help, compassion, or spiritual guidance if the employee chooses to talk about that area. Chaplains are widely used in thousands of companies today and for decades have been a trusted component in hospitals, the military, police and fire departments, U.S. Congress, and sports teams.
Brown notes that the care teams Marketplace Chaplains provides are diverse and independent from the company, and offer confidential and non-judgmental help on any issue, regardless of the employee’s background.
“It is rare these days to have someone who truly cares about you as a person, not what you can do for them,” Brown says. “Someone who says, ‘my time is your time, I’m a safe place, I’m confidential, and you can talk about anything — I’m here to listen and help if you ask.’”
Jeffrey Somers, [email protected]