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Presenteeism in the Eyes of CEOs
Welcome to the Beta edition of Heigh Ho!
Yesterday, I found myself skimming The Pressure of Being Permanently ‘On’ in CEO Magazine. The article didn’t exactly enrapture me, but I couldn’t get over how it defined presenteeism (initially, right there in the article’s subheading):
The act of working longer hours than is actually required.
Double-checking my own understanding of presenteeism (which I thought I knew well but, hey, we’re all here to learn), I eventually came across the American Psychological Association’s definition, consistent with the one we all know and love:
The practice of coming to work when one is ill, injured, or otherwise unable to function at full capacity on the job.
But, wait! APA sneaks in a second definition: “Less commonly, the practice of staying at work beyond the expected hours to the point at which one is no longer effective because of fatigue, boredom, or lack of useful tasks to perform.”
Boom! This seems close to CEO Magazine’s definition, and left me with the familiar feeling of being proven wrong once again. I never associated presenteeism — a concept I’ve always considered fuzzy and oversold — to have anything to do with working extra hours.
But, on closer examination, I still think CEO Magazine is off base. Its definition, “working more hours than required,” can be mistaken for a loyal employee’s act of valiance — staying at work even though they don’t have to, maybe because they love their job so much. This whitewashes presenteeism for the CEO audience. You know how CEOs love employees who stay at their desks until the overnight cleaning crew arrives.
On the other hand, the typical definition — and even APA’s “less common” alternative — identifies presenteeism as a process that wears away at the employee’s wellbeing and risks productivity impairment (due, say, to increased error rates, less creativity, or slower work pace). It’s not just about being the last one to leave.
To be fair, the second half of the article raises a red flag about the risks of presenteeism. But it’s a bit of a muddle, because at one point, it seems to counterpose “working longer hours” with “looking for opportunities to avoid work,” as if these are the only two options available to workers…
Stay late, or look for opportunities to avoid work.
On the Edge with Their Pledge
Questions about why companies earning billions of dollars need to lay off thousands of employees are often answered bluntly: “The purpose of a company is to make money.”
It was just a few years ago, however, that dozens of America’s largest companies signed a Business Roundtable document that “overturned a 22-year-old policy statement that defined a corporation’s principal purpose as maximizing shareholder return.”
The new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation leads with: “Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity. We believe the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all.”
This space isn’t sufficient to publish a full audit of whether these companies’ actions match their values, but you’ll recognize many of them from unflattering news stories in recent months. Signatories included the CEOs of Amazon, Fox Corporation, Salesforce, Union Pacific, and many others.
I’ve added Inclusalytics to my must-read booklist after hearing one of its authors, organizational psychologist Victoria Mattingly, declare in a LinkedIn video, “Inclusion is not a culture. It’s what we do in our everyday interactions.” Seems simple, but it’s a profound point often missed. In fact, it has me brainstorming an article about how culturesplaining risks undermining real workplace solutions.
When Antony Malmo speaks on LinkedIn, the wise take heed. Antony’s posts are always substantive and thought-provoking. Check out his recent conceptualization of whether workforce mental health is a problem or a predicament, and how the distinction should inform our “problem-solving energies.”
Stanford Economics Professor Nick Bloom sparked a lively conversation by sharing a graph that shows the percent of firms in major US cities that offer flexible work. (In the graph, blue sections of the bar represents “fully flexible,” green is “structured hybrid,” and orange is “fully onsite.”) Can you find commonalities among the cities that have the most flexible employment? The least? Where’s your city on the list?
Tale of the Tape
The Great Levelation: In December 2022, quit rates decreased in 5 states, increased in 3 states, and were little changed in 42 states and the District of Columbia, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.
Open Wide: Two workers at a North Texas dental practice will share $15,706 in back wages to be paid by dentists who fired them for raising concerns about COVID-19 safety measures in Spring 2020, following litigation by the U.S. Department of Labor. “Like all workers, these two people had every right to speak up without the fear of losing their jobs," said OSHA Regional Administrator Eric S. Harbin.
And Take a Big Gulp: Circle K Stores Inc. has entered into an agreement with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to resolve disability, pregnancy and retaliation discrimination charges, EEOC announced. The employer will pay $8 million, including a class fund to compensate affected workers. The convenience store company allegedly refused to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant and disabled employees, subjecting them to involuntary unpaid leave, retaliation, unreasonable return-to-work requirements, and terminations.
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