Banishing presenteeism

Since joining the world of the working, oh some 10 years ago, a lot has changed for me.
My first ever job was flipping burgers; aged 16 and fresh out of high school, hoarding cash to use to get drunk after college.
When this all came to an end, after enduring an entire year in the furness (not just figuratively), I made my choices and pursued a career in software development, starting off at the lowest ranks – in fact, not even in the ranks, just somewhere to keep me in money while I learned my trade.

Anyway, 5 years after starting out with no formal skills – apart from a very keen interest that had been there for almost my entire life and a GCSE in IT – I was finally doing what I wanted to do: commercial software development.
One of the things I had learned through my experience so far was that in each job I had worked there was a notion that “you’re only doing your job if you’re seen doing your job” – while a lot of the things I was doing could be done from anywhere in the world, most of the time I was chained to a desk in a high rise building for fear of reprisals – or to be thought of as “a skiver”.

Whenever anybody would talk about somebody working from home or elsewhere, the air quotes would immediately be brought out – “‘working‘ from home”, and this kind of attitude is what has brought about a crippling culture of presenteeism.

Presenteeism is almost the opposite of absenteeism, where an individual is at work all of the time – even when ill, for fear of reprisal – and in my opinion is something that has to be addressed in order to maintain a happier, more secure workforce. If a member of staff clambers to get into the office (where they could spread germs) every day even when ill, the ramifications could be disastrous – in some cases even causing an entire workforce to become ill and thus compounding the issue to the nth degree.

And it’s not all about illness either; sometimes it’s nice to get out of the office and work in different surroundings with a different ambience. If we were allowed more space to explore our working personae, we may even find out new things about our working minds.
I, for one, like to work in a busy coffee shop – I find that in such circumstances I get a lot more done, especially with tasks like documentation. But also, when I’m working on some particularly convoluted code I like to sit outside; somewhere like a beer garden, weather permitting. It allows me to feel relaxed, like I’m not completely banging my head against a brick wall – whereas I have, on occasion, almost come to blows with my keyboard while sitting in my office doing the same thing.

It’s all about different things for different people, but this fear  – sometimes completely misguided – that if you aren’t in the office and in the presence of your boss then you aren’t going to get recognition for what you are doing, and that somehow they are thinking less of you – perhaps even worrying that they are angry at you.

I’m lucky – over the past two years I have had the ability to discover these things, and the potential benefits of working away from the office have been proved through my increased productivity and happiness levels. I get a lot more done in shorter amounts of time, my work is generally more creative, and at the same time I’m don’t feel stressed as often as I used to. I’m also lucky that I work for a small company who understand these things and are very accommodating – and who also adhere to these rules themselves.

Of course, there needs to be a balance – working away from your colleagues too often can break down relationships and abilities to collaborate and work together. Office banter can go silent because you’re seen as a stranger and resentment can form because of these tensions.

I usually work from home on one day each week, though this isn’t a hard and fast rule – for example last week I worked every day in the office and this week, for various reasons (appointments, baby-care), I will be at home for two days, but all the while I’m happy in the knowledge that my work life is stable and that I’m doing the best I can for myself, the company I work for, the people that I work with and for my home life – because without balancing all of those things, you could truly go mad.

So go! Take your laptops, your dongles, your notepads and mobile telephones – explore the countryside and the cityscapes, find new cafés and outdoor spaces with wifi and be productive – but most of all, be happy while you do!


  1. You’re so right! This is something we were discussing just yesterday in my office. I like the office atmosphere for some tasks – collaborating on ideas, sharing information, etc – but when I need to be creative I would much rather go away somewhere. I have to do graphic design, video editing and campaign planning as part of my job and I find all of these easier when I go to the coffee shop or somewhere. I guess I am lucky that we have a coffee shop in the building, but I would still like to work from home sometimes just so the distractions aren’t there!

  2. “So ‘working from home’ can actually be just working outside the office”

    I would say so, yes. It’s just become a common lexicon.

  3. ‘Tis true. In addition I have also observed the phenomenon of ‘Work Hero’. Where people competitively strive to do the most extra work outside of work hours. At least half the people in my office never take their lunch break because they worry that this might be construed as ‘undedicated’. Not to mention the e-mails that turn up showing that these same peeps regularly still grinding away in office at 7/8 in the evening.

    Good way to burn out if you ask me.

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