At Mental Health in the Workplace we often get approached by organisations concerned about the financial cost of absenteeism from mental health issues like anxiety and depression.  However, when we start working with our clients, we often identify that they have a bigger, yet unseen problem.  This bigger problem can be hard to identify and therefore hard to remedy.  

This frequently overlooked issue can also cost the organisation twice as much on their bottom line as absenteeism, but they don’t know it! 

Presenteeism on the Football Pitch

To give you an idea of what I mean (with no disrespect to the great sportsmen I’m going to use to highlight this issue) let me just speak about Manchester United in this seasons home game against Barcelona in the Champions League. Now here we have a clash of titans.  Love football or not you most likely have heard of them.

Manchester United have had a chequered season with lots of leadership changes, whereas Barcelona are still strolling around Europe like the giants they are.

What’s this got to do with presenteeism?

Whilst driving to the office the morning after the first match, I was listening to the pundits and experts picking over the bones of the match. The biggest talking point was that a team of Manchester United’s stature and pedigree should have put up a better fight when, in actual fact, they didn’t have a single shot on target the whole game. The pundits picked out a player who only last year was a world cup winner, who cost the club 105 million euros and whose WEEKLY salary is whopping £290,000.   

Why did they single him out?

Well, the term often used in team sports is that he ‘went missing’ during the game or ‘didn’t show up’. Although he was on the field the whole time and will have run miles during the 90 minutes, he was not the inspirational, robust, inventive player he’s expected (or paid!) to be game in and game out.

But Why?

Although I’m a huge football fan, I’m no expert but let’s look at the possible reasons for this. You might be able to see the same thing is possible for any employee in any organisation, not just with elite footballers!

  1. It was a BIG game.
    The pressure might have got to him and he went into his shell, the intent was there but he couldn’t control the levels of stress he felt. This would certainly affect his clarity of thought and decision making, so effort and desire would still have been there but there would be the potential for mistakes and every mistake would exacerbate the situation.


  2. Changes.
    Although brilliant, this player has had an on/off season. He started the season with a manager with a negative leadership style, rarely given to positive feedback and prone to publicly criticising this player. Added to that he was often forced to play in a position that wasn’t best suited to his strengths, leading to poor performance and a loss of confidence in himself, the team and the management. He became moody and even suggested leaving the club if the manager wasn’t sacked. There maybe some entitlement here based on what he had been promised, or even lead to believe, by the club.
  3. New Manager.
    The new manager very quickly brought out the best in him and the team by letting him play his way, as there was nothing for the manager to lose at that point. Then, as the team starts to taste success the manager had something to lose after all and the goalposts are moved. There is a change in the level of pressure and in the leadership style. Everyone is behaving slightly differently and so the players become unsure of what is expected of them and when.

The Broader Financial Impact of Mental Illness in the Workplace

I could go on about Paul Pogba, Manchester United or just about any other sports team! However, this article is really about how we can see colleagues at their desk seemingly working hard, putting in a shift, wearing their game face whilst unbeknownst to anyone they are struggling with a mental health issue. 

This unacknowledged mental health issue can limit their ability to work at their best, be flexible, productive, interactive or even friendly.

Many of us are masters of disguise and can spend months or even years doing the best we can while in reality, feeling the strain underneath the mask.  If you want to get the best from you teams, colleagues and friends, it might be the time to look at Mental Health Awareness training.

Why not take our simple quiz to see if your company might benefit from more awareness?

If you’d like to discuss how we can support your organisation and your people,