2020 - Presenteeism – Is it worth worrying about?

As we enter a new year and, indeed, a new decade, organisations are looking at ways to get the best out of their business processes and the people working for them, while maintaining a safe, healthy and balanced working environment for all.

Absenteeism is an issue many organisations  have been dealing with for some time and are constantly working to combat (if you are one of our retained clients, you will have received our January article on Managing Attendance in the Workplace), but the latest growing trend is Presenteeism, where Employees are physically present and in some cases putting in extensive hours, but due to physical illness, stress / burnout or mental health issues, may be less motivated and less productive.

Why do people come into work ill?

Financial concerns may strongly influence attendance – it is not unusual for small businesses to only provide statutory sick pay (SSP) – which, for longer periods of time, may put individuals into debt crisis and cause additional illness. They may also choose to work whilst ill because they fear for the security of their job (particularly when the business has previously made redundancies), or that there will be a ‘black mark’ against their name and therefore a reduction in opportunities for career progression. 

Some may feel pressures from their Employer to return to work quickly after an illness, or to push on through despite illness – this is particularly challenging when the illness in question is not visible (i.e. linked to mental health, workplace stress or burnout). 

Others may have good working relationships with colleagues and feel that they are letting them down by not showing up to work, irrespective of the genuineness of their illness. 

Of course, there are some people who simply love what they do and would rather be in work doing it, above and beyond taking care of their health when required.

How is Presenteeism a Problem?

While absenteeism results in lost productivity, high administration costs and poor morale amongst Employees, over the long term, presenteeism does indeed have the potential to be even costlier to organisations than absenteeism.

 The reason for this is that being present doesn’t automatically equal productivity, and in some cases is quite the opposite.

If an employee is physically present at work, but mentally elsewhere due to illness or external pressures, little can be achieved in terms of productivity, and depending on the nature of the work, these levels of distraction could even pose a significant risk to their own or others’ safety (i.e.: machinery operators, drivers, healthcare professionals, etc).

The Statistics

The 2018 Health and Well-being at Work survey, conducted by the CIPD and Simplyhealth, found that 86% of organisations had observed presenteeism in the workplace, compared with 72% in 2016, and just 26% in 2010.

Potential reasons for these figures were illustrated in a survey also conducted in 2018 by Totaljobs, where 31% of bosses stated that they expected workers to stay later than their contractual hours, and those who didn’t were looked down upon. 

How Can Employers Manage Presenteeism?

First and foremost, it is important not to encourage a ‘culture’ of presenteeism in your workplace.  Employees should not be made to feel ‘looked down upon’ for leaving work on time and/or taking essential time away to care for their physical or mental health.

Next, look at the benefits you offer your Employees.  Do you provide a support system?  This could include access to counselling, identifying a member of the team to whom other Employees can speak with confidentially, or offering confidential telephone support where Employees can discuss any issues relating to physical illness, stress, mental health or financial concerns. Do you offer a solid sick pay programme, outside of your statutory requirement, that provides your Employees with financial peace of mind in the event they become ill?  If you don’t, is this something that you could consider implementing?

Lastly, it is vital for Employers to ensure they are approachable, and to communicate consistently with Employees, keeping the lines of communication (in both directions) clear and open.  Employees need to know that they are a valued part of the organisation – an Employer can only provide support where they have absolute knowledge that there is a problem, and if an Employee does not feel comfortable in coming forward, problems can occur.


As always, when it comes to managing absenteeism, and the rising trend of presenteeism, communication is at the top of the list – Employers need to let Employees know that they care and have their best interests in mind, and Employees need to feel comfortable in keeping their Employer in the loop with any issues they might have.

As with Absenteeism, Presenteeism can be reduced when Employees know that they are valued and that their wellbeing is a priority, that support is there if and when they need it, but that they will not be under pressure to come into work when they are too unwell to do so.

How does your organisation fare when it comes to Presenteeism?