Combatting the Annual Disaster to Your Bottom Line – “Holiday Presenteeism” – by Keeping Your Employees Focused During the Festivities

Hang on . . . present-what-ism?  Is that even a word?  Turns out it is, and while discussing absenteeism and presenteeism can be about as exciting as watching paint dry, the fact is that it has a substantial impact on payroll.  There are two similar definitions for presenteeism: the mainstream definition – when employees show up to work despite the fact that they’re sick and could potentially infect others, and the business continuity definition – healthy employees showing up after a disaster but so distracted by the process of getting their personal lives back in order that their onsite productivity takes a dive.

And then there’s holiday absenteeism and presenteeism – when employees are present but too busy planning for (or recovering from) holiday events, both planned and spontaneous, ordering gifts online or even distracted by onsite celebrations, decorating or other preparations.  primary-motivatorEither way, in an article posted by Forbes that includes estimates from workforce solution provider Circadian, the annual cost per employee for different types of absenteeism ranges from $2,650 to $3,600.  And the holidays take their toll: Secret Santa, swapping recipes, longer group lunches, leaving early to beat the crowds at the mall, events and presentations at kids’ schools (and the prep time required for all of that stuff), not to mention winter weather commuting delays.  It adds up.


You don’t have to go quite to this extreme. Image: Wiki entry on Dr. Seuss

And it’s a self-sustaining cycle.  Large numbers of people leave work the Wednesday or even Tuesday or Friday before Thanksgiving and while their bodies show back up, for the most part, the next week, their hearts and minds are elsewhere until the beginning of January because they know “everybody else” is doing the same thing.

Granted, it’s not the ‘60’s and none of us works at Sterling Cooper, but the holidays still happen and they do have an impact on productivity regardless of how Grinch-like it is to shed light on that fact.

The thing is, as a disaster recovery professional, you can’t afford to wait until the recovery phase to make your organization whole.  You need to combat it head on and in advance to make an impact.

So what to do about it?  For one thing, you can engage your employees – most especially your first responders – and better manage their expectations of what your expectations are.  That sounds like double-speak but it means acknowledging to them that you know what the deal is and that you understand but that there needs to be some communication about mitigating the potential loss of productivity.  Not to mention a little give and take.

  • Explain to them that you’re aware of the other demands on their attention but that it’s vital that productivity not be impacted.
  • Use examples and projections and emphasize the fact that what’s healthy for the organization is healthy for their jobs.
  • Avoid onsite parties or company holiday events scheduled during work hours . . . but cut some slack on milder-impact events like an onsite potluck lunch.  Make sure that they acknowledge the importance of the compromise.
  • Strictly limit the amount of workplace decorating.  People who like to decorate for the holidays usually really like to decorate for the holidays, if you know what I mean.
  • Use incentives like productivity contests for gift cards and sanctioned but unscheduled days off that don’t dip into their regular PTO bank.
  • If possible, allow them to work from home on a staggered schedule for two or three days over the next month but only if they maintain expected output.

Most of all, always tie it back in to the overall message of full engagement in constant planning for business continuity and how keeping the company stable and focused year-round is important not only to clients and shareholders but ultimately and perhaps most importantly to each and every employee, whether a disaster is involved or not.


Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.

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