I used to be a proud presenteeism practitioner. I used to habitually practice the art of presenteeism, that is being at work when I shouldn’t have been due to sickness. I once used to be proud of this fact. Very proud. When others would be lying on their couches, sipping on lemon & honey, complaining about their sniffly noses, stuffy heads and sore throats, I’d be soldiering on like an actor in a Codral ad.
I mentioned I was once proud of this fact, which eludes to the fact that I am no longer proud. So what happened? Why the change of heart? Isn’t it a case of “once a presenteeism practitioner, always a presenteeism practitioner”? From time to time, your point of reference changes and voila, a major change occurs and that is precisely what happened here.
In the case of presenteeism, my epiphany or point of reference change came in the form of how I felt about work. I once believed that the hours one put into work was your badge of honour. The more hours you put in, the bigger the badge. And how could I rack up the hours if I was at home sick? I hate to admit it, but I was an “hours bragger” and my presenteeism was a logical continuation of that. “Hours braggers”, for those not in the know, start conversations with statements like “Aw that all nighter a few days ago was a killer” or “I can’t believe I worked until 2AM this morning and still feel great today”. You know who I’m talking about.
The real change in my attitude towards presenteeism, my epiphany if you like, coincided with the birth of our first child. It strengthened with the birth of our second. I started to value life outside the office more than I valued being in the office and racking up the “big hours” steadily became a thing of the past. All of a sudden I couldn’t wait to leave the office at night to get back to my family. I ended up turning this desire into a very powerful and useful motivator.
I had the same amount of work to do as always; a seemingly never-ending flow of it actually. It was the realisation that I didn’t have an unlimited amount of time to do this work, that made me change how I approached doing it. The desire to leave the office at a reasonable hour made me go at my work with more vigour than ever before. Gone were the watercooler and tea room chats, gone were the long coffee and lunch breaks. And gone was the desire to work when I was truly sick.
With my never ending flow of work, it dawned on me that ‘it’ would be there tomorrow. I prioritised my days better in order to get the truly important and urgent items off my plate first and I began to disregard items of little or no importance. With this new approach, if I woke up and was genuinely under the weather, I decided that going to work at less than optimum capability just made no sense. Why not recuperate for the day, maybe clear off any high priority items remotely via the laptop if absolutely necessary and then head back in the following day, refreshed and ready to work hard and smart again.
I’ve progressed even further along this path in the years since my initial moment of clarity. I now believe a person’s worth in a business can be measured by what they produce or their output and not for how many hours they put in. Hours bragging is for chumps and many are likely to regret this path later in life. In a number of studies of the dying, one of the top regrets of people on their deathbeds is to have prioritised work lower than they did and to have lived more. I for one am aiming not to have that regret.