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Updated: Dec 20, 2021

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Presenteeism is a global phenomenon and is increasing becoming recognised in organisations around the world. If it was not for the Covid-19 pandemic however, people probably would not have taken much notice of it at all.

When we wake up with a headache and congestion it crosses our minds briefly

that we are sick, and we should probably stay home, then we think about our

workloads. We remember that the invoicing needs doing, there is a meeting at 11,

and that project needs finishing off before Thursday. So we dismiss the idea and

get ready to go to work and feel terrible for the whole day.

At work we get judgmental looks and get comments from others about how “you

better not make them sick”. Since we feel terrible our production levels are low,

and we make mistakes.

When an employee wakes up feeling unwell (either mentally or physically) they

have two options; go to work anyway, or take the day off. Presenteeism is when

they choose to go to work whilst unwell, and they do not perform at their full


Recent estimates predict that it is up to four times more costly for a business

for someone to be working whilst unwell, than it would if they were absent from

work, as employers pay a full time wage for lowered productivity and often the

illness spreads around the workplace to others.

What causes presenteeism?

Presenteeism is still a relatively new concept and we are still learning

about how to control, reduce and measure it. However, it is known that

often presenteeism is often encouraged by management, this could be

both intentional or unintentional.

Research shows leader presenteeism significantly influences employee

presenteeism. If employees see leaders coming into work unwell,

therefore role-modelling to team members that they should do be doing

the same thing.

Other known causes include:

  • People using all their sick leave and not having the choice to stay home but come into work unwell

  • Staff taking time off for their mental health is often met with judgement and criticism

  • Operational demands take precedence over employee wellbeing

  • Job insecurity

  • High work demands / no-one-else available to share/ cover the workload

Why is this practice to be discouraged?

Some people may think the practice of turning up to work unwell should be

discouraged just so others do not get sick, other reasons include:

  • Lowered productivity

  • The risk likelihood of mistakes, incidents and accidents occurring increases

  • The person is often unwell for a longer period as they have not rested and recovered fully

There are strong analogies between an iceberg and the issues surrounding

presenteeism. Even though the employee is working and not taking sick leave the

costs to the company are often hidden.

Employee Taking Sick Leave Costs.

Costs of presenteeism:

• Lowered productivity

• Mistakes, incidents and accidents

• Other employees becoming unwell

• Employees are sick for a longer period as they have not rested and recovered fully, causing ongoing costs.

Managing Presenteeism

There are several ways to discourage presenteeism and many of them could

save the company money.

  • Make it clear in the company that it is expect unwell employees are to stay home and recover.

  • Change of sick leave policies - provide more sick leave if it is required, this could be on a case by case requirement.

  • Share work demands - communication and support play a big role in the work-related stress people experience.

  • Recognise the symptoms, especially mental health symptoms.

  • Implement a Wellbeing Programmed. Personal Wellbeing is estimated to account for a 4% reduction in organisational productivity.

  • Encourage Flexible work options for those who have health conditions

Need Assistance ?

Our team are available if you require assistance with maintaining a safe

working environment.

Please contact us if you require any advice or check out our website:

We recommend also seeking advice from a Human Resources Advisor on

how to manage Presenteeism in your workplace. Presenteeism is an area

which crosses between HR and H&S.

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