If you want to measure financial wellbeing in the workplace directly, you should use a financial wellbeing survey to get self-reported data. If you pair this with proxy measurements, such as absenteeism, the insight and conclusions you draw are likely to be stronger.
Is presenteeism a good proxy for financial wellbeing?
Just as absenteeism can be a good proxy measurement for financial wellbeing, presenteeism can be as well. Poor financial wellbeing causes financial stress and financial stress leads to absence or, if certain conditions are met, leads to presenteeism.
But while presenteeism is a reasonable proxy for financial wellbeing, the difficulty in measuring presenteeism presents a challenge. This is for several reasons: if someone is absent, they are absent. It’s clear. But when does good coming to work turn into bad coming to work i.e. presenteeism?
Furthermore, presenteeism occurs when people feel unable to not come to work and therefore self-reporting of presenteeism may not paint an accurate picture. Measuring presenteeism is often also considered in relation to productivity loss i.e. if you’re at work but very low on productivity, there’s probably a reason you shouldn’t be at work. But productivity loss is notoriously hard to measure.
How can we measure presenteeism?
There are lots of methods of measuring presenteeism, for example self-reported levels of low productivity periods at work combined with estimations of general health. The Stanford Presenteeism Scale (SPS-6) is a well-known measure that attempts to judge the extent to which self-reported indicators of reduced health affect task-completion ability.
You could fold these questions into your regular survey to get a baseline presenteeism measure to compare to on a regular cycle. Another option to use presenteeism as a proxy for financial wellbeing is to link it to absenteeism data. Huver et al (2012) developed a tool based on a variety of premises, one of which is that there is a general level of absence in an organisation and that lower levels of absence in a group or individual may indicate presenteeism.
There’s no doubt that presenteeism as a measure of financial wellbeing is one of the most difficult to track purely because of the nature of presenteeism. If you have the data analysis resources and infrastructure to use presenteeism to augment your picture of financial wellbeing, that’s great, but it’s likely many organisations do not.
In this case, looking at absenteeism and another proxy measurement of financial wellbeing such as retention (to augment a financial wellbeing survey) is a strong, logical overall approach.
We’d like to thank an excellent review of the thinking on presenteeism (PDF) from the Institute of Employment Studies for an overview of the studies cited in this article.