Forget About ‘Absenteeism’; ‘Presenteeism’ May be Killing Your Workforce Productivity

By Suzanne Gainey

Did you know that 3 out of 4 American workers describe their work as stressful? Not only is workplace stress affecting your employees, but it is affecting the bottom line of your company. Workplace stress is costing employers an estimated $200 billion per year in absenteeism, lower productivity, staff turnover, workers compensation, medical insurance, and other stress-related expenses. While some workplace stress is normal, excessive stress can interfere with productivity and performance at work. This can also have serious impact on the physical and emotional health of your workers.

Data from FDU tells us that employees typically work more today than they did 25 years ago, adding the equivalent of a 13th month of work to their workload every year. Additionally, 60% of lost workdays each year can be attributed to stress-related causes. Stress can have a direct effect on how employees handle themselves at work. Employees under stress may make more mistakes, have trouble concentrating, become disorganized, become angry or just stop caring altogether about their work. Once an employee reaches the level of not caring and not being able to concentrate while on the job, he or she is reaching the realm of what we call ‘presenteeism’.

‘Presenteeism’ describes an employee who is coming to work each day in a less than optimal state either physically, mentally, or both. This type of employee may have become disengaged from their work due to excessive on-the-job stress. In a 2001 survey from, nearly 40% of workers described their office environment as “most like a real-life survivor program”. This troubling statistic describes the heightened stress many workers are experiencing at work. Employers would likely prefer their employees enjoyed, or were at least neutral in their attitude about coming to work, rather than having them feeling that they are fighting to survive each day at the office. So, what can be done to reduce stress in the workplace?

There are two types of stress, mental and physical stress. Let’s start with the mental stress factors and some possible solutions. Many employers are responding to mental stress in the workplace by offering support systems and tools to assist the employee. Nowadays employers are offering everything from a more flexible work-week scheduling system, to formal psychological therapy, relaxation breathing techniques, diet and exercise programs, and friendly workplace contests just to name a few. The solution to mental stress differs from person to person, which is why it is good for employers to offer several options to help in the reduction of mental workplace stress.

The second type of stress is physical stress on the body and immune system. To help reduce physical stress on the job there are many ergonomic solutions available on the market today. In fact, there is an entire field now dedicated to ergonomic workplace solutions for employers to provide for their workers. One of the key areas to think about is the actual workstation set-up. For example, is it the correct height for the employee to accomplish work comfortably? Work stations with equipment that is adjustable could be an answer to this problem. Another thing to think about is does the employee have the necessary gear to make the job as efficient as possible? Making sure that your employees have appropriate lighting and safety gear to accomplish the task at hand is a must. I had a friend tell me they once had to work through a power outage with ineffective dollar store flashlights in a factory warehouse setting. My friend felt extremely unsafe during this circumstance and had trouble performing his job well in this setting. He lost all confidence in the employer for forcing the staff to continue to work through the power outage and ended up quitting the job. Finally, what is the employee standing on all day while at their work station? We recommend finding an appropriate flooring solution to get employees off hard flooring surfaces such as concrete. Standing on hard concrete all day does not make for happy legs, lower back, or feet.

But, how do you know what type or flooring or mats to choose for your workforce?

Many anti-fatigue mats on the market today are made of foam that feels soft and squishy when very little pressure is applied. Since foam breaks down and compresses easily, it can bottom out, rendering it ineffective as an anti-fatigue intervention. To counter this, many foam mats are marketed as the “thickest”, the “plushest” or the “most buoyant”, as they get thicker and thicker. The downside is that the thicker they get, the less stable they are, much like standing on a mattress. This increases fatigue from standing as well as increases the risk of injuries and tripping hazards.

Further, our SmartCells research team has found that mats tend to bottom out if there is an imbalance between compressibility and height. A mat that is overly soft acts like it bottoms out because the material compresses too easily. In addition, a mat that is not thick enough may bottom out even if it has the right compressibility. This balance between thickness and compressibility is often referred to as ‘densification strain’. As a rule of thumb, if a material compresses more than 50% of its thickness, it tends to act as though it is bottomed out.

A standing surface that has been optimized to reduce fatigue and injuries while increasing productivity will have critical elements that work in collaboration with each other such as optimal compressibility, support that allows stability and instability, and a low-profile height that will not allow bottoming out.

Through years of careful development based on valid third-party research, the unique SmartCells™ cushioning technology has been specifically designed to resist bottoming out without being too soft, while providing a stable surface.

SmartCells® Cushioning Technology mats, flooring, and insoles are ergonomically engineered to help you feel great, and meet your health, safety and productivity needs.