The pervasive, pernicious and damaging impact of presenteeism in PR

It was 200 years ago, during the Industrial Revolution, that factory owner Robert Owen first began campaigning for improved working conditions, the lynchpin of which was the concept of the eight-hour working day.

On the 200th anniversary of the 8-hour working day, the PR industry is in need of an overhaul of working practices, writes Fiona Chow
On the 200th anniversary of the 8-hour working day, the PR industry is in need of an overhaul of working practices, writes Fiona Chow

He championed the notion of "eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest" and in doing so, acknowledged that productivity could only be enhanced with a better work/life balance.

While fewer of us are having to put in a shift at the cotton mill or coal mine nowadays, the typical UK worker still has some of the longest working hours in Europe.

The advent of email and video conferencing made it easier to collaborate across time zones and geographic boundaries and, as a result, productivity boomed in the '90s and early 2000s.

However, growth has since declined.

Technology, which was supposed to help us increase productivity and create a more connected world, has instead contributed to a continual drain on our energy, efforts and emotions.

Ironically, as the cost of communication decreases, the number of interactions has gone up exponentially, with the average worker getting 122 emails per day.

And as emails have the pesky ability to intrude into your evenings and weekends, the result is a stretching out of the working week and the creeping culture of presenteeism.

The industry is long overdue a total overhaul of working practices to reflect the changing nature of society - more dual-income families, the gig economy, an ageing population.

Fiona Chow, partner and head of PR at The Hoxby Collective

Such a short-term approach leads to poorer employee health and creates a vicious circle of exhausted, unhappy workers falling ill and staying ill for longer.

The issue is so critical that Professor Sir Carey Cooper from Manchester University recently referred to presenteeism as the biggest threat to UK workplace productivity, costing twice as much as absenteeism - some £62.5bn a year, according to CEBR figures.

PR is one of the biggest culprits, with an expectation that one should be "always on" for clients.

Aside from the 9-5 (ha!) office culture, there are countless networking events, client events and business development meetings that happen after hours.

And while these may be fun in moderation, over time trying to juggle your professional and personal commitments becomes a real challenge, especially if, *shock horror* you want to start a family, learn a new skill or just have an early night.

The industry is long overdue a total overhaul of working practices to reflect the changing nature of society - more dual-income families, the gig economy, an ageing population.

Contribution needs to be measured on what is delivered, not the number of hours at your desk or where you choose to work from in the first place. Technology needs to be used responsibly, to engage, not police.

This will, in turn, widen the pool of talent to embrace the skills, experience and passion across demographics; from millennials to working mums to older workers or those with physical or health issues that preclude a long commute and hours sat at a desk.

Embracing diversity, autonomy and flexibility in working practices will mean better engagement, loyalty and retention and only improve the industry and help create a working world without bias.

Fiona Chow, is partner and head of PR at The Hoxby Collective

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.