Woody Allen famously quipped that 80 percent of success is showing up. But most employers would disagree. Not only must employees show up, they need to be fully engaged in their work to contribute to their company’s success.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Researchers say that presenteeism – being on the job but not fully functioning – is a costlier problem than employee absenteeism. In fact, it may cost U.S. businesses 10 times more than absenteeism, perhaps as much as $1,500 billion per year, according to a GCC Insights Report by Global Corporate Challenge. Similarly, the Towers Watson 2014 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey found that employees worldwide lose almost 11 days of productivity each year.

Clearly, reducing presenteeism can provide savvy employers with a competitive advantage.

It’s important to note that presenteeism can be triggered by a number of underlying health issues that aren’t serious enough to keep an employee at home, but zap energy levels and the ability to concentrate. By encouraging employees to utilize their health benefits, employers can tackle many of the root causes. Here’s how:

  1. Flu shots. Most health plans provide annual flu vaccinations at no cost to the employee or other beneficiaries. If employees can avoid influenza, they won’t come to work coughing, sneezing and feeling miserable. And they won’t exacerbate the issue by spreading germs through the workplace.
  2. Annual checkups. A no-cost annual checkup can motivate employees to take charge of their health. If stress, sleepless nights or stomach issues are problematic, they can get to the root of the problem and develop solutions.
  3. Prescription coverage. Allergies, asthma, migraines and other headaches, back pain, arthritis and gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) top the list of presenteeism causes. Often, pharmaceutical solutions can help relieve the symptoms. Be sure employees understand their plan, including step therapy programs, as they seek the most effective treatments.
  4. Chronic condition management. Obesity, heart disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions affect about half of adults, and they’re clearly linked to productivity ups-and-downs. For example, Type 2 diabetes may account for nearly 20 percent of presenteeism in the workplace. Most health plans include disease management programs to help employees control their symptoms and feel their best.
  5. Mental health coverage. Nearly 7 of 100 adults fight depression and 18 of 100 adults have anxiety disorders, both of which can affect on-the-job productivity. Employers would be wise to publicize resources available through their health plan.
  6. Wellness emphasis. There’s a direct link between effective wellness programs and reduced presenteeism, according to “What’s the hard return on employee wellness programs?” published in Harvard Business Review. Wellness programs not only address health risks, they can also help employees deal productively with stress, which can be a major on-the-job distraction.

The right corporate culture is key in the battle against presenteeism. Suggestions include ensuring that sick employees aren’t penalized for taking time off and providing flexible work environments that allow telecommuting when health is compromised. In addition, training managers to recognize signals that indicate high levels of stress or mental health issues equips them to support employees appropriately and reduce the stigma of seeking help.

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