Presenteeism vs. Productivity in the Modern Workplace

The 4-Hour Workweek is a lovely idea, but not many of us would risk sauntering out of the office at lunchtime on a Monday. “I’m all done guys. See you next week!”

Some companies are catching on to the idea that time spent in the office isn’t necessarily indicative of quality work but in the vast majority of workplaces, there is more emphasis on the appearance of work rather than the work itself.

Staying late, arriving early, or working through lunch can indeed signify someone who’s dedicated, but it can also be a toxic behaviour that leads to burnout and undue stress.

Anxiety about being seen to be working hard, being seen to be putting in the hours, being seen to be going above and beyond is still rife, and no amount of buzzwords or self-help books will change that. This tendency can also make people work through illness when they’re completely unable to perform to their usual standards.

Honestly, it’s not really our fault. We’ve been wired by a system of employment originally created for factories, and while it doesn’t remotely make sense for digital labour, decades of conditioning have us very well-trained.

But it’s time we all stopped humble-bragging about how busy we are. Here are some simple solutions to actually be productive at the office, not just present.

Leave Work When You’re Meant To


Staying late to get something finished is sometimes necessary, but if you make a habit of it you’re just running the risk of exhausting yourself. In some industries, this is the norm and when you’re part of that culture it’s hard to deviate from the status quo. However, if you’re confident about what you finished throughout the day, you should clock off when you’re supposed to. Don’t feel bad about it. Your job doesn’t need to be your whole life if you don’t want it to be.

Think Wardrobe


Recently I saw an interview with the musician Devendra Banhart, where he talked about how, even though his recording studio is at the bottom of his garden, he puts on a suit to go to work everyday. When he goes back up to his house in the evening, he changes into more comfortable clothes to underline that he is done for the day. I love this idea. Even if you work in a very casual office, it’s nice to have work clothes and home clothes. When you change in the evening, you’re officially on your own time.

Don’t Read Emails/Slack At Night


The smartphone is a fantastic invention, but definitely a double-edged sword. As a result of their ubiquity, we’re always on. It’s hard to resist peeking at work emails, or keeping track of projects when you’re supposed to be enjoying your evening. But aside from the occasional time when that’s necessary, being available for work all the time doesn’t really make you more productive. It just makes you stress out and divides your attention. Set a time at which you turn off your phone or turn on ‘do not disturb’ on your phone and leave it alone. This will also benefit the quality of the sleep you get when you finally hit the hay.

Set Clear Boundaries


One of the biggest encouragements to procrastinate at the office is the fact that you can always catch up on something later. Access to the cloud means that most of us could work all the time, really. But this sense of ‘I can do this later’ means that you’re not going to be at your most productive at the office. By banning yourself from playing catch-up at home, you’re more likely to actually achieve what you need to everyday, or begin to set realistic deadlines for what you can and can’t achieve. Create a routine for when you get home that helps you to wind down into evening-mode and stick to it.

Treat Part-Time Work as Exactly That


If you’re work part-time or freelance it can sometimes feel like you’re compensating for the hours you’re not at work. You need to manage your time efficiently to make sure that you’re not simply doing a full-time job but for less money. Make it very clear to your managers and co-workers about your unavailability outside of working hours. There is a reason you work part-time so make that obvious to everyone and don’t take on more than you can feasibly handle.

Take Time Off to Recover


When you’re sick, you simply can’t work. That’s that. I’m often guilty of believing that a concoction of denial and powering through is the cure for everything, but the reality is you can’t work to your full capacity if you’re not well. Take the time off you need to get better, and don’t risk prolonging your illness – or the health of your co-workers – by showing up at the office when you’re sick. If you have a long-term condition, talk to your managers about what you’re able to do, and how they might be able to facilitate you to work at your most productive.

So what’s the moral of the story? Work when you’re at work. Don’t work when you’re not. Simple as it sounds, you know as well as I do that it’s easier said than done. Start by implementing small changes to how you approach your work day. Test out how it feels to make clear delineations between work and leisure time. You may never look back!

Carrie M. King

Carrie M. King

Carrie M. King is the Editor of the Journal by Jobspotting. Hailing originally from smack-bang in the middle of Ireland, she moved to Berlin in 2014 to join the gang at Jobspotting. Carrie previously worked in journalism and literature. If you want to share thoughts or ideas, get in touch: