Presenteeism: The Elephant In The Room


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Source: iamYiam

Presenteeism’s impact on productivity is 12 times greater than absenteeism but it is still a relatively unknown issue. What exactly is presenteeism and what are the problems it can cause your organisation?

Key Takeaways

  1. Presenteeism is being present at work but not fully functioning due to mental or physical problems
  2. 35 productive days are lost for each worker every year due to presenteeism
  3. Companies need to take a holistic approach to employee wellbeing and offer whole-of-person solutions

What Is Presenteeism?

Presenteeism is being present at work but not fully functioning due to illness or other medical conditions. Presenteeism due to psychological problems is also a huge problem, costing organisations more than absences due to sickness. It can affect the quantity and quality of work completed and has a huge impact on productivity.

Health related causes of presenteeism include chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and musculoskeletal disorders. Mental health issues include areas such as stress, anxiety and depression. These conditions can be aggravated further by attending work so it is important to try and prevent and treat these conditions as they arrive.

Why Is It a Problem?

Presenteeism is a hidden problem in many organisations. Employees feel it is better to be seen at work when not feeling well then to not attend work at all. This is often driven from a fear of being labelled unreliable or the perception that you cannot handle the pressure. Coming in to work when not feeling well has a longer-term impact on productivity as it extends the recovery period and it can also have a knock on affect to other employees.

The average number of sick days per year in the UK is 4.4 but 35 productive days are lost per worker each year due to presenteeism. Five years ago only 29% of employees were affected but now this has risen to 45%. This could also be due to a rising awareness of the issue and how previously under-reported it was.

Presenteeism In A Pandemic

The Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the issues surrounding presenteeism even further. Firstly, for those employees still physically attending work, it is more important than ever that employees discourage presenteeism. Attending work when feeling unwell poses a huge risk for the people you work with and the wider society.

Presenteeism has always been a hidden issue within organisations but now many more people are working from home it becomes even more difficult to manage. There are also the increased stresses of the current situation with everyone being impacted in different ways. Organisations need to support employees and ensure they still feel comfortable taking time off in the same way they would if physically being at work.

What Can Be Done About It?

Long hours and intense demands from managers are fuelling this increase in presenteeism but as more people become aware of the issue, organisations can start to take steps to address it. Companies need to be more tuned in to the wellbeing of employees. Implementing a whole-of-person approach to health can transform workforces, improving productivity but also helping them achieve a better overall quality of life.

Organisations need to support employees mentally and ensure they feel comfortable taking time off when required. Solutions such as syd, can provide science-backed recommendations that are personalised for each employee, helping them to achieve and more balanced and healthy life and reducing both presenteeism and absenteeism.



Ruhle, Sascha Alexander, et al. ““To work, or not to work, that is the question”–Recent trends and avenues for research on presenteeism.” European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 29.3 (2020): 344-363.

Rhodes, Stephen M., and Sandra K. Collins. “The organizational impact of presenteeism.” Radiol Manage 37.5 (2015): 27-32.

Goetzel, Ron Z., et al. “Health, absence, disability, and presenteeism cost estimates of certain physical and mental health conditions affecting US employers.” Journal of occupational and environmental medicine 46.4 (2004): 398-412.

Cooper, Cary, and Philip Dewe. “Well-being—absenteeism, presenteeism, costs and challenges.” Occupational medicine 58.8 (2008): 522-524.

Martin Powton
I have over 13 years' experience in digital marketing and am interested in all areas of marketing, customer experience and employee wellbeing.


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