Distracted employees cost SA businesses up to R89bn a year - report

South African businesses are losing up to R89 billion a year due to distracted employees, who despite being present in the workplace, are unproductive, says new research by Momentum Corporate.

The Momentum Effective Employee Index reveals that "presenteeism" is costing some businesses 5% of gross operating profits (GOP). Presenteeism is defined as the phenomenon when employees are at work but not productive due to distractions.

The results show that, on average, 27% of employees go to work but don’t always work effectively because they are distracted at some point. About 33% of employees that were absent indicated they had been distracted on days they were at work prior to being absent, suggesting presenteeism can be a lead indicator of absenteeism in some cases.

Elaine Wright, wellness strategist at Momentum Corporate, says SA companies are already reeling from the rising cost of absenteeism on employee productivity. Now the research shows they are losing even more due to presenteeism.

The index shows that local companies lose an estimated R25bn per year to absenteeism. The research estimates that around half of this can be considered as "excessive absenteeism" - in other words, an amount over and above the reasonable amount expected for companies based on their size.

The purpose of the index is to help employers understand why employees become distracted at work; quantify the costs of presenteeism; and take proactive measures to intervene and reduce its impact.

Using the SA average day rate of R405.05, it is estimated that employers are losing an average R596 566 per 100 employees per year due to presenteeism.


The research shows personal reasons are the biggest distractions for employees. These reasons include sick family members; bereavement and family or relationship problems. This is followed by financial matters, which includes issues such as over-indebtedness and lack of savings for unplanned expenses.

Physical and mental health issues are also serious distractions in the workplace. These include hypertension; headaches; flu; depression; burnout; and mental exhaustion.

The research further found that the sectors of finance and other business services as well as agriculture were the most heavily impacted by distracted employees. Its prevalence in finance and other business services was recorded at 30%, followed closely by the agriculture industry of 29.8%.

Employees in the mining and electricity, gas and water supply industries were found to have lost the most productive time as a result of presenteeism, while employees in the mining industry effectively lose about seven days per employee per month. In the electricity, gas and water supply industry it is estimated that businesses effectively lose about 6.8 days per employee per month.

According to Wright, proactive, targeted interventions in these areas can significantly reduce its impact on productivity. An effective employee assistance programme can help employees to cope better with their personal issues and improve their emotional health.

Other interventions for reducing presenteeism could include employee debt management interventions; financial education programmes; flexible insurance benefits that reduce over-insurance and channel more money towards long-term savings; reward programmes that encourage healthier lifestyles; access to private healthcare cover and tele-health services for health issues that do not require a face-to-face consultation.

Distracted employees costing SA business sector up

(Source: Momentum)

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