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Presenteeism: A Scourge on the Environment & our Well-Being

For years, I have struggled to understand the pervasive, stubborn value placed on “presenteeism” in the modern workplace. In this case, I’m thinking mainly of the office-type environment. Imagine rows of desks… tightly packed offices… a seemingly endless cubicle grid… often with no natural sunlight. Workers are compelled to sit in their ‘box’ for 8 hours, give or take, staring at screens and tapping away at their keyboards. How unnecessary.

They don't call it the Rat Race for nothing

Value is placed on being at your desk for the designated hours. Start and finish times are firmly set; break times most likely as well. And manager’s mentally check off a key requirement: worker #782 was present at his or her/desk for the designated hours. One less thing to discuss at the performance review meeting. But shouldn’t productivity, creativity, employee (mental) health be the key considerations? There’s nothing special about this particular desk/chair/workstation assortment, surely. With advances in technology, there’s no reason why an employee couldn’t be just as effective from home (café/park…) – at least some of the time.

In many cases, our representative employee has made an arduous, stressful commute that morning, arriving in a sub-optimal state of mind. With the help of caffeine, they get down to work. All the while knowing the same gruelling journey awaits them that evening. Rinse and repeat.

What a waste of time, money and resources. Perhaps the public transport system will keep up with demand, offering an efficient, comfortable and affordable option for the commuter. In Australia, this is by and large not the case, with at least 6 times [1] more people commuting by car. Consider the vast consumption of fuel, enormous air and noise pollution, disturbance of the natural environment for ever-growing road networks. Imagine the reduction in ecological footprint if even half of the time our diligent employee was freed from the quaint concept of presenteeism.

Organisations would benefit from an employee that, on balance, is happier and healthier – entrusted to maintain professional standards untethered from the old work paradigm. Perhaps cost-savings can be realised from reducing the size of lease space as well.

Maybe this is just a pipe dream. Corporate culture is notoriously hard to shift. Do you think a real sea change is possible? Management ought to think outside the ‘box’, for everyone’s sake. The environment would thank them for it, too.



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