Presenteeism is a sign that we’re not ready for flexible work, says futurist

1 in 3 British employees expect more workplace flexibility in the next decade, according to workplace futurist, Graeme Codrington.

Presenteeism is the bane of the modern workplace, with more people opting to drag themselves to the office – even if it’s not practical – in the interest of appearing productive. Whether battling a cold or shuttling across the city for meetings, there are many reasons why it may be easier to work remotely. Presenteeism and the belief that you need to prove you are working still exists in spades, which, according to TalkTalk Business futurist, Graeme Codrington, is a sign that most workplaces are not ready for flexible work.

“One of the big reasons that flexible workers choose to return to the office is the desire to ensure they are seen to be productive. This is normally an indication of a workplace that is not quite ready for this new world of flexible workers in the digital economy,” he tells GrowthBusiness.

“As increasingly more of our work is delivered digitally, it becomes very difficult for the old-school ‘supervisor’ mindset to be effective in motivating employees and getting more out of them. Companies must shift to measuring outputs, rather than inputs (in other words, what has been delivered rather than how many hours it took to do so), and they must shift from requiring attendance to rewarding delivery.”

TalkTalk research reveals that a third of UK workers expect they will have greater flexibility around working from home, or from the office in a coming decade. A further one in three workers also said that they think by 2025 the Monday to Friday working week will become redundant. The research also found that 59 per cent of bosses will encourage employees to work in a way that offers them the best work-life balance.

According to Codrington, the most important thing a business can do to counter presenteeism is to change what they measure – and why its measured.

“The whole point of the digital revolution in the workplace is to give people tools, and to free them up, to be more productive, more creative and more flexible in their approach. If our measurement and reward systems – either formally or informally – still measure hours, attendance and simply ‘being there’, then technology is not going to be the quick-fix many people hope it will be. A workplace culture change is needed just as much as new technology is.”

Despite advances in robotics and artificial intelligence, only 15 per cent of British business leaders believe they will need less employees. Moreover, one in five decision makers want to use technologies to empower employees to support them in their tasks.  “Technology continues to increase worker productivity, helping standards of living improve as working hours have gone down. Still, as TalkTalk Business’ survey reveals, this is not a trend that today’s employees are seeing, as we are entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Codrginton explains. “Both employers and employees need to realise that the technology is there to make their working lives easier and more enjoyable. Advances in machine learning and AI enable employees to get more done in less time, helping them achieve that elusive work-life balance they hear so much about.”

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.