From Presentism to Productivity: A Guide for Managers and Leaders to Banish Presentism from their Team or Business

In the age of evolving work dynamics, the transformation from presentism to productivity has become the north star for businesses and managers alike. The concept of presentism – physically being in the office for the sake of appearances – should be fading away in favour of a results-oriented approach. 

As managers confront this much-needed shift, the question looms: will they be able to adapt?

Who is this article for?

This exploration is tailored for managers at the crossroads of traditional and modern management, and for employees who yearn for a work environment that values outcomes over optics. If you're ready to delve into the nuances of presentism, understand its pitfalls, and embrace the potential of true productivity, you're in for an enlightening read.

What does this article promise

By the time you reach the end of this article, you'll have a clear understanding of presentism and its consequences, insights into why performative theatre is a hindrance and actionable strategies to usher in a new era of productivity-driven management.

Decoding Presentism and Performative Theater

What is presentism? It's the act of physically being present at work, often for extended hours, even when the work being done could be accomplished more efficiently. 

What is performative theatre? Think of it as pretending to work, going through the motions just to show your presence. It's that illusion of being productive while actually accomplishing very little.

Why is this now an issue? For a long time, office work has seen a rise in what David Graeber called Bullshit Jobs. These are jobs that really do not need to exist and are therefore both pointless and surplus to requirements.

In many offices up and down the land, there are people doing jobs that are either: Not needed in the organisation or get by day-to-day by doing pretend work (lots of meetings/’busy busy busy’/swamped with emails).

Much of this activity to created by the need to look busy over being productive. Hence the rise and rise of performative theatre in the workplace.

The Downside of Presentism

Why it's a bad thing – The irony is that presentism, the very act of physically being in the office, can lead to reduced productivity. Long hours at work don't necessarily equate to high-quality output. It fosters a culture where face-time is valued over actual contributions, stifling innovation and creativity.

The reason why it is bad for a business, a team and a person is multifaceted. However, it boils down to some simple reasons.

  • People who are ‘present’ in a conversation but say or add nothing to the conversation, might be present, but they are not adding much to the conversation. 

  • The rewards within the business start to be focused on who is “there” and not who is productive.

  • Home Workers and Remote workers can have their efforts ignored and their talents wasted, both are bad for business.

  • Companies with Presentism problems, tend to have staff that work longer and have a higher turnover.

  • Increased acts of workplace Presentism, will lead to less innovation, and problem-solving and will move more work onto the productive members of the team. 

  • Long-term presentism culture within a company or team can lead to the promotion of those most “present” and available over those most suitable and talented.

Approaches to Change the Culture

What can be done about it – Managers need to shift their focus from monitoring presence to measuring performance. Embrace a results-oriented approach that values efficiency, innovation, and a healthy work-life balance. Set clear expectations, encourage flexible working arrangements, and prioritize outcomes.

Who benefits from solving this issue – The entire ecosystem benefits. Employees enjoy improved well-being and work-life balance, while companies reap the rewards of enhanced productivity, innovation, and employee retention.

Making changes to company culture is difficult the famed Management expert Peter Drucker once said (and I paraphrase) “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. However, there are some strategies that will help a business or team move away from presentism to productivity.

  • Define why productivity looks like presentism in your business or team. 

  • Keep job outcomes focused on Key Performance Indicators that can be backed by data (as much as possible).

  • Set specific end-of-day times, that work should end for all staff (unless it is an emergency) for a two period. Although this is not a magic bullet it will have the effect that work deadlines become increasingly fixed.

  • Make conscious efforts to reward and publicly name those who have been productive over those who are present. Make sure to go out of your way to get the message across that being productive is more important than present.

  • Review the contributions each team member has made each month/quarter to the business to look for genuine contributions that add value to the organisation or bring the organisation close to its goals.  

  • Take time out of the office to avoid being present yourself. This will remove you from the office, giving you another insight into presentism over productivity.

  • When deciding on work-from-home, remote working, nomadic working, hybrid or fully in-office, try to use the data cycle (insert link) to ensure that you are making policy based on what is really happening within the business. 

Actionable Takeaways

Takeaway 1: Understand the distinction between presentism and productivity, and recognize the performative theatre that may be at play.

Takeaway 2: Acknowledge the downsides of presentism, such as stifled creativity and reduced productivity.

Takeaway 3: Embrace strategies that shift the focus from presence to performance, creating a culture of results-oriented management.


As a manager, take the helm in steering your team toward a results-oriented work culture. As an employee, advocate for a workplace that values your contributions over your physical presence.

You might find the book The One Minute Manager, this is a superb book that will help anyone who currently manages staff

The book Bullshit Jobs is also available on Amazon and so is the book The Essential Drucker which is full of many useful insights.


  • Presentism involves physically being at work without necessarily being productive.

  • Performative theatre is the illusion of being productive while accomplishing little.

  • Presentism is counterproductive, valuing face-time over actual output.

  • Shifting to productivity-driven management fosters innovation, efficiency, and work-life balance. benefiting both employees and companies.

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