TOEFL Reading Exam - Sample 1.2

The following passage is an excerpt from a BBC editorial titled “Why presenteeism wins out over productivity.” Read carefully and answer the questions that follow.

The full article can be accessed here: Why presenteeism wins out over productivity.

Sample Extract

If the pandemic has taught us anything about work, it's that we don't need to be pulling long hours in an office to be productive.

So, why is presenteeism still so important?

It's almost hard to imagine a time in which people spent at least 40 hours a week in a physical office (and often even longer, to impress the boss). But in the pre-pandemic workforce, this kind of ‘presenteeism’ – being physically in your seat at work just to look dedicated, no matter how unproductive – was just another fact of office life. Before the pandemic, data from one UK survey showed that 80% of workers said presenteeism existed in their workplace, with a quarter of the respondents saying it had got worse since the prior year.

But now, remote work has provided bosses and workers alike with an overdue opportunity to re-evaluate this ingrained presenteeism. Presenteeism can cost a nation's economy tens of billions of dollars as sick people drag themselves into the office and infect others; it creates toxic environments that lead to overwork, as people putting in long hours piles pressure on everyone else to do the same. We know it's productivity that matters, not being chained to your desk or computer – and it's a conversation we've been having for years.

Yet, despite a golden chance to ditch the practise amid a new work world, the emphasis on presenteeism is alive and kicking. Now, presenteeism has simply gone digital: people are working longer than ever, responding to emails and messages at all hours of the day to show how 'engaged' they are. And, as bosses call workers back into the office, evidence is mounting that we perhaps haven’t moved the dial on presenteeism at all.

Why managers still fall for presenteeism

Clinging to a presenteeism culture just favours those “who have the time to show up early and leave late”, says Brandy Aven, associate professor of organisational theory, strategy and entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, US. Aven also points out that this can unfairly favour some workers over others – parents may have no choice but to leave early, for example. Yet as bad as presenteeism is, there are some indications that people who don't put in face time may actually get penalised.

Two key psychological phenomena fuel presenteeism--the first is the ‘mere-exposure effect’, which holds that the more a person is exposed to someone or something, the more they start to grow affinity. For example, “If I've seen one person 10 times for every one time I’ve seen somebody else, I'm just naturally going to like them more.” If a particular worker makes themselves more visible, they may naturally ingratiate themselves to others just by being there – even if the others don't realise it, or can’t pinpoint what is it they like about the ‘presentee’. And, before you know it, the presentee might get a raise or promotion.

The second psychological concept is called the ‘halo effect’: associating positive impressions of someone with their actual character. For example, “You start to think of the person who's bringing you coffee or asking about your weekend as maybe ‘a sweet guy’ – but then I take the mental step of thinking you're a productive worker, too, even though you've given me no evidence in this coffee-cup situation to make me think that you're a hard worker.” This can lead to promotions or other benefits going to in-person workers.

Showing up for the sake of it

In fact, during the pandemic, the number of hours worked around the world have gone up, not down. In 2020, over the course of the year, average daily working hours increased by more than a half hour. Many bosses only see the most visible people, so they assume those are the most productive employees.

However, this ultimately backfires, since the quality of workers’ output suffers as a result of this rush to perform. In the UK, for instance, 35 workdays are lost per worker per year in the UK due to presenteeism, and research also shows that productivity plummets after working more than 50 hours a week.

How to stamp out presenteeism

Now, in an era in which work practices have undergone seismic transformations, and have triggered unprecedented scrutiny, there’s an urgent need to reduce the emphasis on presenteeism, both physically and digitally. But, like burnout, which also fundamentally threatens the way we work, fixing huge, existential issues including presenteeism requires a big, top-down overhaul of what’s valued in the workplace and why.

Experts advocate for better, clearer metrics teams can use to measure productivity beyond “who leaves the office last” or “who's responding to emails at daybreak”.

The sad truth is, though, that the hallmarks of presenteeism still exist in this new world of work. That is not sustainable because people are going to burn out. It’s this arms race for who seems to work the most. That the behaviour has transferred from physical desks to online shows how deeply it's ingrained in our work lives.

Even though it was expected that there would be a switch, but due to our ingrained biases, transformation may be tough.


Sample Questions

Q1. What is the main theme of the passage?

A) Discussing the validity of presenteeism in the post-pandemic world

B) Supporting remote working culture in the post pandemic world

C) Evaluating productivity under various work situations

D) Evaluating the impact of long working hours upon the mind

Q2. According to the passage, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a major positive disruption in the way we work. Identify it among the options.

A) Reducing the number of working hours

B) Breaking the barriers of physical location

C) Reducing work pressure

D) Creating more jobs

Q3. The passage refers to the word “ingrained” in context to presenteeism. What does that mean?

A) Basic, Prehistoric

B) Archaic, Impulsive

C) Fixed, Sadistic

D) Deep-rooted, Fixed

Q4. Evaluate the following statement and choose one of the options:

According to the passage, presenteeism was worse before the pandemic enforced virtual working across the world.

A) True

B) False

C) Cannot say

D) None of the above

Q5. Complete the following sentence:

Presenteeism flourishes across companies due to _________________ reasons. Two common phenomena associated with this behaviour are ________________ and _______________________.

A) Managerial, Mere-exposure effect, Halo effect

B) Psychological, Mere-exposure effect, Halo effect

C) Financial, Mere-exposure effect, Halo effect

D) Corporate, Mere-exposure effect, Halo effect

Q6. The passage mentions “being chained to your desk.” What does this mean?

A) Workaholic

B) Working at one stationary place for a long time

C) Forced to work for long hours

D) Unproductive working hours

Q7. Complete the following sentence:

The consequence of both mere-exposure effect and halo effect is __________________.

A) The hardworking employee gets noticed

B) The over-worked manager is recognised

C) Loyalty is appreciated

D) The clever presentee gets rewarded over truly deserving employees

Q8. One of the sub-headings mentions “for the sake of it.” What does this expression mean?

A) Casually, for no particular reason

B) For a desperate need

C) Doing something punctually

D) Doing something repeatedly

Q9. The writer suggests ways to weed out the culture of presenteeism from offices. Identify among the following:

(i) Clearly define performance benchmarks and enforce it while deciding on rewards

(ii) Have a strong policy on employee work-life balance

(iii) Penalise managers who foster a presenteeism culture and reward favourites

A) All the three options are False

B) (i) and (ii) are True; (iii) is False

C) (i) is True; (ii) and (iii) are False

D) All three options are True

Q10. The writer mentions “ practices have undergone seismic transformations…” What do you understand by 'seismic transformations?'

A) Breaking geographical boundaries

B) Unforeseen, enormous changes

C) Demographical reforms

D) None of the above

(Answers on Next Page)

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