So here is the quick answer to destroying the presenteeism problem: stop focusing on it. What I mean by that is, stop paying attention to whether your people are there or not. Employee presence is not an indicator of performance unless the employee is a human mannequin for a shop window. Please, continue reading…it will make sense in a minute.
Stop Watching the Clock
There is an old adage that states, “What gets recognized is what gets done.” Here is where we mess up. We are recognizing people for simply showing up when we focus on the schedule. What we should be focusing on is results. And we know it, but why do we still chastise people for coming in “late” or leaving “early”? Because it is the easiest piece of feedback we can possibly give, that’s why. Someone’s attendance or tardiness is not personal so it is very easy to approach, and the expectations are clear. “Come in at 8 – leave at 5.” That is pretty crystal, not a whole lot of gray area there.
By focusing so much on the clock and giving feedback around it, we set an expectation of being present, which we already know does not necessarily mean they are contributing towards the job. If you stop managing people’s time and making sure they are there from X to X and focus on results they produce, you might actually find they get it done faster.
Set Clearer Expectations
People generally do not want to come to work and say “gee, I hope I suck today.” Now, I am not denying that some people come to work and say that, I am saying they do not WANT to do that. People want to be successful – they want to fulfill expectations. Think about it personally for a second, have you ever hoped you disappointed someone on a constant basis? My bet is no. By not setting clear expectations for our employees, we set them up to disappoint us everyday. The reverse is true if we can be clear about what results we expect to see.
Get out of the way
Here is the hard part. This is all about letting go of control. This is how you stop being a parent or babysitter for your employees (one of the biggest complaints most supervisors echo – “I hate being a babysitter”.) Tell them what you expect, make sure they have access to the resources they need, then get out of the way. You have just given them control over their own success. Now your role becomes that of a facilitator, your job is to make it easy for them to get their job done. Most of the time, that involves getting out of the way. Have you ever thought to yourself “man, I seem to get a lot more done when my boss is gone”? That is because the constant checking in, interruptions, meetings, etc. simply get in the way of you getting your job done.
Trust It Will Happen
This too is hard, VERY hard, especially if we have seen the employee as “unreliable” in the past. This is where employees either sink or swim but eliminates the need for you to hold them above water. The employee now gets a choice, either fulfill the expectation or risk the performance management process. Short term, this may cause some stress, but long-term, you, your employees, and your organization will be stronger.
Give Quality Feedback
If you set clear expectations, this step should be easy. If they are not meeting the expectation ask them what is getting in the way. And here is the important part – LISTEN. Sometimes what they are facing is a real obstacle. And whether or not you accept the reason for the breakdown, it does not change the expectation. So now it becomes a strategic problem solving discussion that fixes the problem instead of “you suck – do better.” What will they do if they run into another obstacle and do they know, regardless of the obstacle, the expectation is still the same?
Reward the Results – Not the Activity
This is where you are looking at pure output. Regardless of time spent. If the result is the same, then ultimately it is up to the employee how much stress it caused or how much effort it took. This actually encourages employees to streamline processes, especially if it gives them their time back. If I know I can leave when I am finished with something, I will finish it faster.
Focus People on Results
This is a process and ultimately a cultural shift from decades of broken thinking that encourages distrust in the workplace. If someone makes a comment about so and so leaving or not being there, ask what they need. Refocus people on the results not just the presence of someone. If they are producing and getting people the information they need, then where they are at any given time has nothing to do with their performance. When people begin to talk about “late”, “early”, or even just being plain absent, ask them if the work is getting done.
You are working against a pervasive mindset when it comes to presenteeism. People play the game, go to the right meetings, and simply provide face time as a way of succeeding in their careers. If you want real results, less frustration, and higher employee engagement – give them their time back. After all, you are paying them for their results, not their time.
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