Understanding presenteeism

What it is and how to reduce it in the workplace

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She’s a tough cookie. He’s such a trooper. She’s as tough as old nails. Yes, they’ve made it into work, but should they really be here? Or are they acting out presenteeism? 

What is presenteeism?   

Presenteeism in short means working while unwell. Your employee is putting aside their health problems to attend work but they should really be absent, at home, resting up so they can return to work feeling better. And when we say unwell, this isn’t limited to sickness bugs or colds, but other illnesses such as injury, exhaustion, even mental health problems 

The effect of presenteeism on your business 

Employees making it into work while under the weather surely can’t be a bad thing? It shows a level of dedication and it keeps absence levels down. Yes, and no.  

 Absence levels are certainly down, but productivity levels are reduced.  

When employees come to work and are not fully engaged this can result in poor performance, leading to errors in judgement, which can be incredibly costly to employers in term of time and money.  

Presenteeism can also have a detrimental effect on morale and overall wellbeing. It sets an expectation for others to feel pressurised to make it into work, even if they don’t feel well enough to do so.  

And if someone is contagiously sick, there’s the added risk of creating a workplace epidemic.  

Causes of presenteeism  

To help reduce presenteeism in your workplace, you need to be able to identify and understand what could be causing your employees to feel as though they have to come into work when ill.  

While these causes will vary depending on your business and job roles, the main reasons for presenteeism are*: 

  • Unrealistic employer expectations and time pressures 
  • No paid sick days 
  • Loyalty or job insecurity 
  • Harassment or discrimination for taking sick days 
  • Larger workloads 
  • Understaffing

Spotting the signs of presenteeism  

Noticing the symptoms of presenteeism is crucial, especially if you want productivity to be as high as possible. It also shows your staff that you care 

  • Visible illness – employees who continue to come into work while unwell, potentially spreading germs and never returning to their full potential
  • Low absence rate – minimal absences can actually be a sign of presenteeism
  • Low morale – this can have a huge effect on employee wellbeing, productivity and overall culture
  • Increased number of mistakes being made
  • Working longer hours – feeling ill can prevent employees from working as time efficiently andd productively as they usually would.   

Preventing presenteeism in the workplace  

You’ve noticed the signs, now to take action: 

  • Make it clear that your company expects sick employees to stay home and fully recover before returning to work
  • Support a flexible approach to absence, and a staggered return to work if necessary
  • Ensure line managers are successfully facilitating the management of employees’ workloads, so no one feels overburdened 
  • Offer workplace training and awareness on presenteeism
  • Facilitate an open approach to disclosing both physical and mental health issues
  • Implement a health and wellbeing programme into your workplace

Key takeaways  

Presenteeism is fast becoming a larger problem than absenteeism. With workplace productivity decreasing, as more and more people are making it into work when they should be staying at home.  

By properly managing presenteeism, you can help increase morale, reduce mistakes and improve profitability.  

Doctor Care Anywhere can help  

If you feel as though an employee is showing signs of presenteeism, suggest talking to one of our GPs or ANPs. Our clinicians are available 24/7 and can help with all sorts of illnesses, whether physical or mental. Our My Health app can also provide tips and advice on managing a wide range of health issues. 

Together, we can get your employee present and fighting fit again. 

Last reviewed - May 2022 


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