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How ‘Presenteeism’ breaks employees

By CHRIS BUCHANAN, client solutions director for Dell Technologies South Africa

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You could say I’m from the old school. When I first started working in an office, employees had to be seen. A visible employee was a productive employee and slackers weren’t at their desks. This informed my management style when I was put in charge of other people and it made sense. But things often make sense when you don’t know better.

Fast forward to a few years ago and my views have changed. Laptops and BlackBerries let employees take their work with them and even rudimentary internet such as a GSM or 3G connection was not a barrier working where you wanted to. Today this approach to work is seen as the norm and the way to create a vibrant, attractive workplace for talented employees.

Such a workplace is established with the help of modern devices and services. But there is an emerging problem that could damage those efforts. Employees are trying to be seen more than ever before, a trend called Presenteeism.

Presenteeism is the opposite of absenteeism, which sounds great but it isn’t. Presenteeism is when someone shows up at the office with a cold when they should be at home in bed. It’s behind the heroic work hours and deadlines that so many teams deal with and it reinforces the problem with my above-mentioned old school approach: visibility and productivity are not the same and the former can be counterproductive to the latter.

Mavis sniffling at her desk is not doing her best work and likely distracting others as well, maybe even infecting them. Yet can we blame her? She’s feeling the pressure of a demanding, always-on workplace and wants to be a good employee.

Presenteeism is on the rise. A new survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the UK found that 83% of respondents observed presenteeism and 25% said the problem is getting worse.

I frequently advocate for a modern workplace, where the four personas – desk-centric, corridor warriors, on-the-go pros and remote workers – are each catered for with the right devices, services and management support. But we have to be careful not to drive these purely as a productivity exercise. Productivity is important, but people are fragile. Creating a superhuman expectation leads to problems, often exacerbated by our connected cultures. Whatsapp messages can reach us at any hour, demanding emails can find us on holiday, last-minute requirements haunt us while sitting in bed.

These are not good attributes. They create burnout and erode morale. A modern workplace needs modern attitudes around respecting employees and not abusing flexible technologies.

Here are some points to consider:

  • Do your employees hit ‘reply all’ merely to show accountability? Do you have policies to indicate when they can trim that recipient list?
  • Instant messaging like Whatsapp is great, but has many limitations. Do your managers think they can send messages at any time? is the content appropriate?
  • Do you allow your people to show they can do their jobs or does your culture encourage helicopter management?
  • Have you looked at your processes, improving cumbersome ones? Are you listening to your employees suggestions to make them more efficient?
  • Are your employees made aware of mindfulness around tasks? Or do they approach tasks as “tick box” exercises?

I have adjusted my perspective from a few years ago, nowadays a week or two may pass without me seeing my direct reports. However, the real challenge has been finding a way to address the points mentioned above. Modern devices and services have made it easy for employees to work everywhere, but the unintended consequence is that they work all the time as well – and eventually regard that as the status quo. This can undermine attempts to improve their capabilities and choices.

Establishing good work/life balance opportunities is very important, particularly if you wish to attract and retain the best talent. Technology and connectivity have helped make this a reality: employees able to hit their deadline and still pick the kids up from school. It’s a far cry and major improvement over the dreaded ‘be seen to be promoted’ days.

But without looking at your culture, those technologies become traps. People feel the pressure to keep performing, even at the cost of their health. That ultimately is a cost to your business.

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SA’s Internet goes down again

South Africa is about to experience a small repeat of the lower speeds and loss of Internet connectivity suffered in January, thanks to a new undersea cable break, writes BRYAN TURNER

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Internet service provider Afrihost has notified customers that there are major outages across all South African Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as a result of a break in the WACS undersea cable between Portugal and England 

The cause of the cable break along the cable is unclear. it marks the second major breakage event along the West African Internet sea cables this year, and comes at the worst possible time: as South Africans grow heavily dependent on their Internet connections during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

As a result of the break, the use of international websites and services, which include VPNs (virtual private networks), may result in latency – decreased speeds and response times.  

WACS runs from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, up the West Coast of Africa, and terminates in the United Kingdom. It makes a stop in Portugal before it reaches the UK, and the breakage is reportedly somewhere between these two countries. 

The cable is owned in portions by several companies, and the portion where the breakage has occurred belongs to Tata Communications. 

The alternate routes are:  

  • SAT3, which runs from Melkbosstrand also in the Western Cape, up the West Coast and terminates in Portugal and Spain. This cable runs nearly parallel to WACS and has less Internet capacity than WACS. 
  • ACE (Africa Coast to Europe), which also runs up the West Coast.  
  • The SEACOM cable runs from South Africa, up the East Coast of Africa, terminating in both London and Dubai.  
  • The EASSy cable also runs from South Africa, up the East Coast, terminating in Sudan, from where it connects to other cables. 

The routes most ISPs in South Africa use are WACS and SAT3, due to cost reasons. 

The impact will not be as severe as in January, though. All international traffic is being redirected via alternative cable routes. This may be a viable method for connecting users to the Internet but might not be suitable for latency-sensitive applications like International video conferencing. 

Read more about the first Internet connectivity breakage which happened on the same cable, earlier this year. 

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SA cellphones to be tracked to fight coronavirus

Several countries are tracking cellphones to understand who may have been exposed to coronavirus-infected people. South Africa is about to follow suit, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From Israel to South Korea, governments and cell networks have been implementing measures to trace the cellphones of coronavirus-infected citizens, and who they’ve been around. The mechanisms countries have used have varied.  

In Iran, citizens were encouraged to download an app that claimed to diagnose COVID-19 with a series of yes or no questions. The app also tracked real-time location with a very high level of accuracy, provided by the GPS sensor. 

In Germany, all cellphones on Deutsche Telekom are being tracked through cell tower connections, providing a much coarser location, but a less invasive method of tracking. The data is being handled by the Robert Koch Institute, the German version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In Taiwan, those quarantined at home are tracked via an “electronic fence”, which determines if users leave their homes.  

In South Africa, preparations have started to track cellphones based on cell tower connections. The choice of this method is understandable, as many South Africans may either feel an app is too intrusive to have installed, or may not have the data to install the app. This method also allows more cellphones, including basic feature phones, to be tracked. 

This means that users can be tracked on a fairly anonymised basis, because these locations can be accurate to about 2 square kilometers. Clearly, this method of tracking is not meant to monitor individual movements, but rather gain a sense of who’s been around which general area.  

This data could be used to find lockdown violators, if one considers that a phone connecting in Hillbrow for the first 11 days of lockdown, and then connecting in Morningside for the next 5, likely indicates a person has moved for an extended period of time. 

The distance between Hillbrow and Morningside is 17km. One would pass through several zones covered by different towers.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that South African network providers have agreed to provide government with location data to help fight COVID-19. 

Details on how the data will be used, and what it will used to determine, are still unclear. 

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