After a while this can result in collective self-delusion that this pretence is actual work. But presenteeism has more serious consequences. It is perhaps most prevalent in Japan,
where people attend the office even when they are in discomfort. In doing so, they are doing neither themselves nor their employers any favours.
As well as reducing productivity, this can increase medical expenses for the employer. According to a study in the Journal of Occupation and Environmental Medicine,
these costs can be six times higher for employers than the costs of absenteeism among workers. To take one example, research published in the British Medical Journal found that
Japanese employees with lower-back pain were three times more likely to turn up for work than in Britain. As a result, those workers were more likely to experience greater pain and to suffer from depression.
What could be more dispiriting than being in pain while feeling trapped at work? None of this is to say that employers are not entitled to expect workers to be in the office for a decent proportion of time.
Inevitably there will be a need for some (preferably short) meetings. Dealing with colleagues face-to-face creates a feeling of camaraderie,
allows for a useful exchange of ideas and enables workers to have a better sense of their mutual needs. In the grand sweep of humanity, presenteeism is a recent phenomenon.
Before the industrial era, most people worked in their own farm or workshop and were paid for the amount they produced. Factories emerged because new machines were much more efficient than cottage-industry methods,
and only a large employer with capital could afford them. Suddenly, workers were paid not for their output but for their time, and were required to clock in and out.
But modern machinery like smartphones and laptops is portable. It can be used as easily at home as in the office. Turning an office into a prison, with inmates allowed home for the evenings,
does nothing for the creativity that is increasingly demanded of office workers as routine tasks are automated. To be productive you need presence of mind, not being present in the flesh.