Presenteeism – What is it, and why it matters


For those of you who are regular viewers of LeaveMonitor (welcome back to another Latest Insight for our valued regulars), you may be aware of or may have even read my latest article on Absenteeism which you can find here. As discussed, absenteeism is a potential problem for a company. However, is presenteeism another challenge faced by many companies? What exactly is presenteeism anyway?


What’s the deal about Presenteeism ?

Presenteeism isn’t as nice as it sounds. Whilst absenteeism stands for absence from work, unfortunately presenteeism doesn’t mean your employees coming to work as per their contracts. It’s a touch more sinister than that. Presenteeism is when an employee should be absent but nonetheless turns up to work. Most commonly, this is when employees turn up to work unwell. In addition, this may be when a staff member works a large amount of overtime or comes in to work very early/very late.


Why is Presenteeism a problem?

Let us focus on each type of presenteeism individually.

Firstly, those who come to work sick. Presenteeism has been observed by 72% of workplaces and accounts for £605 per person, per year lost by companies in the UK. This creates a gaping hole in the UK business scene of £73 billion per year when absenteeism and presenteeism are combined (find that information here). Doesn’t take a genius to work out that isn’t healthy for any company.

In addition, coming to work sick is likely to lower productivity, employee effectiveness and contribute to worker’s fatigue. Even with something as “insignificant” as a cold or flu, it is recommended that a person stays at home for 24 hours to recover. In addition, colds/flu are the single biggest reason children do not go to school and adults miss work. If a person comes back to work too soon, they may delay their recovery and thus affect their efficiency whilst at work. In addition, you do not want to see your entire workforce struck down with the same illness virtually simultaneously. If the COVID-19 Pandemic has taught us anything, it is that staying home to isolate enables life to carry on at a somewhat normal pace.

Secondly, those who work late/early or do huge amounts of overtime. As discussed in my article about TOIL on LeaveMonitor, overtime (whether accruing TOIL or overtime pay) may lead to a decreased quality of work. After all, quality not quantity is so often the name of the game – right? Similarly, people who come to work early or late may produce a lesser quality of work. For example, if one of your workplace benefits is working flexi-time (flexible working hours), having employees present at hours unknown to man may not help your company – i.e. Presenteeism.


How to avoid negative presenteeism

Initially – take a look at your employee wellbeing programme (and learn how to create/modify one here). It is inevitable that your employees will likely, at one point, be mentally or physically sick. After all, we are all human. Make a plan to deal with an employee who is suffering in some way. Be kind and humane, ensure work isn’t a burden. Whilst you will feel like a great boss, your employee will be able to recover and feel comfortable in your company and you will not lose time, productivity and resources paying an employee who is not up to their best. For an employee who has been absent for a while, consider creating an individualised return-to-work plan to avoid negative presenteeism in your company.

Make sure wellbeing is at the top of your list and lead by example. Do not hesitate to send sick employees home or even have the odd sick day yourself. Self-care is so important now, mentally and physically. In addition, check your company policy regarding sick days and time off sick. Do not make your policies too restrictive – you do not want employees who are sick at work.

Of course, presenteeism through difficult times may simply lead to absenteeism. Whilst presenteeism is a problem, absenteeism is an even greater one. It is best to try and stop while you are ahead with this issue. Try and make your company as watertight as possible against presenteeism and you will find absenteeism drop too – especially absenteeism related to sickness.


In conclusion

No, presenteeism is not good. It sounds nice, but isn’t. Put bluntly and in simple terms – much of this is down to you – the employer. If you take my suggestions, you should find that presenteeism isn’t as much as an issue as it may be, and that absenteeism also declines. But remember that this is down to you, how you communicate with your staff and how your company fundamentally treats its employees.

Remember that LeaveMonitor offers a wonderful service to help both employer and employee keep a track of leave and authorised and unauthorised absences. Of course, such a programme would help that coveted employer-employee relationship and communication evolve and become successful! Check out what we can offer you here with our free trial account!