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  • Katica Roy

The Days Of Employee Presenteeism Are Over. What Comes Next?

Welcome to my weekly Q&A roundup. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)

If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions—tough questions, brave questions, you name it. The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. So each week, I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.

The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusivity.

  • Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.

  • Inclusivity: bringing others along in the journey.

Be Brave™


Say Goodbye To Employee Presenteeism


My entire team is back in the office except for one employee. I granted an exception for this employee because she has two kids and needs to be at home to supervise remote learning. My other team members have expressed their frustration with the arrangement and say it’s not fair. I don’t know what to do because I need my team in the office—but at the same time, I want to empathize with my employee whose kids are at home.


In early 2019, pre-pandemic, the BBC ran a story titled The rise of 'presenteeism' in the workplace. The article described a concerning trend among employees: that being present at work mattered more than one’s mental and physical health.

A few months later, another report came out, this time from global staffing firm Accountemps, revealing that nine in ten professionals admitted to going to the office despite being sick.

What was fueling the rise of presenteeism?

  • 54% of employees had too much on their plate

  • 40% didn’t want to use a sick day

  • 34% felt pressure from their employer to be present

  • 25% said their co-workers go to work sick so they can too

I want you to know that the days of presenteeism are gone. (That’s a good thing because presenteeism costs US companies $150 billion per year in lost productivity and poor health outcomes.)

COVID-19 put an end to this destructive trend and replaced it with trust. Yes, trust. This humble five-letter word lays the foundation for inclusive and forward-thinking workplaces. The problem, it appears, is your office is stuck in the days of presenteeism. It hasn’t yet transitioned to a culture of trust.

The bigger picture: trust replaces presenteeism

Although it may be tempting to address the conflict you’re facing with your team as a one-off issue, we need to take a step back to see the bigger picture. Presenteeism will not drive success in the future workplace. Your challenge as a leader will be to coach your direct reports through the transition of being present to being trusted.

ROT: return on trust

It feels elusive, soft, and subtle, but the benefits of trust are real. And we can measure these benefits in a language all C-Suite leaders speak: money.

  1. Businesses with high-trust cultures enjoy two to three times greater stock market returns than the market average.

  2. High-trust business cultures are better at retaining workers, with 50% lower churn rates than industry competitors. (When the cost of turning over an employee ranges from 5.8 to 213% of the worker’s annual salary, retention matters.)

  3. High-trust businesses are at least 2.5 times more likely to be a top-performing revenue generator than low-trust businesses.

We can also measure trust in terms of motivation. In fact, 79% of employees who trust their employers are motivated to work. Whereas among employees who don’t trust their employers, only 29% are motivated to work. Imagine missing out on the potential of two-thirds of your people.

How to guide your employees through cultural transition equitably

2021 is your year to reconcile with the impact of COVID-19. Think about how the pandemic is already changing your workplace for the better. Now, instead of resisting that change, embrace it. Anticipate it.

Ultimately, trust derives from competence and intent. A great way to lose trust is to talk the talk but not walk the walk. Perhaps the most salient and timely example of this is the outpouring of brand support we’ve seen for pro-equity causes on social media. If you are one of the companies who pledged support, then show* how your company is working toward equity internally by releasing data on the steps you’re taking to hold yourself accountable.

Trust doesn’t appear overnight, so in the meantime…

Research shows that employees who request telecommuting arrangements are viewed more negatively than employees who do not. And here’s the kicker: women who request telecommuting arrangements are viewed more negatively than men who request the same arrangements.

So as you think about how to bake trust into your cultural operating system, don’t neglect the role that bias plays in shaping harmful workplace attitudes. (Which, in turn, erodes trust.)

How can you ensure objectivity in performance evaluations between remote and in-person employees? What skills or digital tools can you deploy that will help hardwire trust in your organization?

I challenge you to think big. This is your year to apply the lessons of 2020 and make your workplace more inclusive and equitable for all. You are the change you’ve been waiting for.

*Here’s a great example from PwC on how to merge words of commitment with tangible, data-driven actions to live out your organization’s values.


These Q&A roundups can be delivered directly to you—a week before I publish them here. Interested? Join the Brave Souls® community (all you need is an email address).

© 2021 Pipeline Equity™, Inc.


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