Presenteeism is the inability to function at work fully and, for most, refers to staff coming to work when they are sick and operating at limited capacity putting pressure on the staff member to perform and co-workers to cover the load of the ill employee. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many workplaces have seen a dramatic decline in workers coming to work sick due to fear of the spread of the virus. One thing managers across many industries are now fully aware of are the impacts of having physically ill staff come to work. Still, many are failing to recognise signs of presenteeism due to mental health issues. It has been well documented and publicised that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a dramatic increase in mental health problems and suicide within our communities. Therefore as employers, it is more important than ever to recognise the signs of mental health within our workplace.

The Australian Government Productivity commissions Mental Health Report estimates the cost of presenteeism due to mental health costs around $13-17 Billion each year. The report notes that increased productivity and reduction in compensation claims are the sources of potentially high returns to employers who invest in strategies and programs to create a mentally healthy workplace. Managers and workplaces need to understand that working can give people a sense of purpose, life satisfaction, increased social interaction as well as providing regular communication and shared experiences with people outside of a person’s family.

The report put forward several recommendations to address these issues:

  • Making psychological health and safety as important as physical health and safety.
  • Workplace health and safety organisations create and enforce codes of practice to help employers, particularly small employers, better manage mental health risks in the workplace.
  • Provision of medical care for mental health workers claims for insurance, regardless of responsibility, before the injured worker returns to work or for a period of up to six months after the claim has been lodged.

If you or your staff are experiencing mental health problems please know you are not alone, Beyond Blue have tips for looking after your mental health during a pandemic, Lifeline has a 24-hour crisis support line 13 11 14 for you or anyone you know is suffering from mental health issues.