In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the world witnessed an unprecedented shift in working practices, leading to a colossal experiment in remote and flexible working. For researchers delving into the dynamics of this transformation, it became apparent that the challenges of the traditional workplace had not vanished but merely migrated to new locations. The terms “leaveism” and “presenteeism,” previously coined to describe distinct workplace practices, took on new dimensions amid the pandemic.
Back in 2013, the concept of “leaveism” was introduced to describe the phenomenon of employees utilizing allocated time off, such as annual leave or flexi hours, to deal with various challenges. Fast forward to February 2020, before the pandemic took hold, and discussions were already underway about the impact of “leaveism” on flexible working. Little did we know that a month later, the working landscape would undergo a seismic shift, with the kitchen table or spare bedroom becoming the new workplace.
As the pandemic forced companies and employees to adapt to remote work, researchers closely monitored how this transition affected leaveism and its counterpart, presenteeism. Surprisingly, the move to remote work did not eliminate the challenges but rather reshaped them. Now, as we emerge from the pandemic, companies are grappling with decisions about the future of work – hybrid, remote, or a full return to the office.
The unforeseen changes triggered by the pandemic have made taking work home and balancing work and home life a new norm. Recent research highlights that, despite increased homeworking, 43% of individuals still experience presenteeism, and 47% grapple with leaveism. The workplace, once defined by physical presence, has evolved into a space where employees navigate a complex interplay between professional and personal demands.
The transition to remote work brought forth both advantages and disadvantages, as documented in a book written during the COVID lockdowns. Financial benefits, such as savings on time and travel costs, became apparent. However, downsides included challenges like inadequate workspace, limitations with internet access, and other technological hurdles.
A recent study, detailed in the book “Wellbeing at Work,” sheds light on the evolving workplace dynamics during lockdowns. The balance has shifted from sickness absenteeism to notable increases in presenteeism and leaveism. Despite the challenges, there is acknowledgment that remote work can be a viable long-term solution, provided organizations and managers address the associated issues effectively.
Now, as companies grapple with defining the new normal, there is a heightened awareness among managers of the impact of leaveism and presenteeism on workforce wellbeing. Effective leadership, whether in a traditional office or a remote setting, is crucial. Emotional intelligence, or EQ, emerges as a key factor in understanding employees’ feelings and thoughts without intruding into their private lives.
Managers with high levels of emotional intelligence tend to foster better relationships with their teams, leading to increased commitment and effort. The ability to navigate the delicate balance between professional and personal spheres is crucial in ensuring a positive work environment. This, in turn, helps mitigate the emergence of leaveism and presenteeism, which are often indicative of employee dissatisfaction or intentions to quit.
Research consistently underscores the pivotal role of good line management in shaping the employee experience. The difference between great days at work and miserable times often hinges on effective leadership. As organizations navigate the uncertainty of shifting policies regarding remote and office work, investing in the development of soft skills becomes imperative for managers.
In an environment where the perfect combination of remote and office work remains elusive, organizations must focus on the sustainability of their teams. Even amid extraordinary challenges, managers must actively seek opportunities for constructive development, aiming to create more good days at work than bad for everyone involved. As the world adapts to the new normal, the emphasis on employee wellbeing and effective leadership will undoubtedly play a central role in shaping the future of work.