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16 Jan 2020

Presenteeism: how to spot it and stop it

Many people often come into work when perhaps they shouldn’t, because they’re reluctant to take time off. A dangerous mentality of ‘keep calm and carry on’ resides in the workplace, and it has become increasingly common for employees to ignore illnesses, injuries and general signs of an inability to work as a result. This phenomenon is called ‘presenteeism’ and refers to the matter of employees being at work despite being unable to properly function.


Absence from work is considered a sign of weakness or lack of commitment for some. In fact, a 2019 survey by People HR found that 79% of employees are too afraid to call in sick. Instead, employees are disregarding their mental and physical health to ensure they attend work.

Presenteeism is a rising issue in the workplace, one that if left unacknowledged and unresolved, can lead to poor wellbeing, low morale, burn out and increased employee turnover. It’s also a huge threat to productivity, because employees that show up to work when they’re not feeling mentally or physically their best, won’t be able to perform at their best either.

This condition can affect anyone in your business, at any level. So, how do we treat it?

Firstly, it’s essential to spot the symptoms.

Signs of presenteeism

Visible signs: when employees continue to come into work while unwell, not only will it take them longer to recover, they’ll likely spread their illness to their colleagues too. If you’ve got a high number of visibly tired and/or unwell employees at work, there’s a high chance your business is suffering from presenteeism.

Low absence rate: while a low absence rate is often considered a sign of a happy and healthy workforce, it might actually be a sign of presenteeism. If your business has minimal absences, there’s a strong chance that many of your employees are coming into work when they would actually benefit from having some time off. It’s therefore important to scrutinise your absence rate because your employees could be mentally absent despite turning up to work.

Low morale: if some of your employees are battling through illnesses, injuries or any other struggles during work time, they’ll likely find it difficult to keep their spirits high. Low morale can then seep into other areas of your business and have a detrimental effect on employee wellbeing, productivity and the overall culture. It’s therefore key to pick up on this sign.

Demotivated employees: employees that come into work when they aren’t feeling their best will often struggle to stay motivated during the day. For that reason, it’s important to monitor the motivation levels among your employees. Are they enthusiastic about their jobs? Are they willing to go the extra mile? If you notice a dip in motivation, presenteeism might be the cause.

Increasing number of mistakes: presenteeism essentially means that when employees are at work in body, they’re not necessarily there in mind. When this is the case, attention to detail wavers and there’s a greater chance of mistakes happening because employees aren’t able to work at the best of their abilities.

Working longer hours: feeling under the weather at work will prevent employees from working as time efficiently and productively as they usually would, which can force them to work longer hours in order to complete their tasks on time. While coming in to work early and leaving late might, in some business environments, be considered a sign of hard work and commitment, it might actually suggest that your employees are struggling to perform their usual daily tasks on schedule due to ill health. Consider this the next time you see an employee working after everyone else has gone home. 

The problem of presenteeism is increasing. The CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Well-being at Work survey (2018) found that 86% of more than 1,000 respondents to its survey had observed presenteeism in their organisation over the past 12 months. The survey revealed that presenteeism had more than tripled since 2010. It’s therefore likely that areas of your business could have a culture of presenteeism or will suffer from it in the future.

How to combat presenteeism

To stop your employees soldiering on through their problems and putting their health and wellbeing at risk, you need to put measures in place so that they’ll take the time they need to rest, recuperate and recover. By doing this, your employees will be motivated and ready to get stuck into work when they’re present.

Shift your culture

Your business’ culture will have a big influence on your employees’ behaviour and the decisions they make. So, before you do anything, you need to look at your culture and identify whether it could be facilitating presenteeism by encouraging employees to neglect their own health and wellbeing to make sure they come into work.

For example, are employees that take sick days criticised or judged? Do you make it difficult for employees to take time off for health issues? Do employees feel a sense of pride for coming in to work despite being ill? If so, this needs to be fixed.

To eliminate presenteeism, you need to shift your culture so that both work and your employees’ health is appropriately valued. Employees should be encouraged to look after themselves and supported when they need to take a day off. Whether it’s for a mental health-related problem like stress, depression or anxiety, or for a physical problem like an injury or illness, employees should feel comfortable taking time away from work when they’re not feeling their best. This also means that when employees are off work, they shouldn’t be contacted and given the time they need to recover.

You want to have a happy, healthy and productive workforce, so you need to create an environment that enables your employees to put their wellbeing first. A culture that advocates a healthy balance between work and life, will mean that when your employees are at work, they’re able to function at their best.

Deliver a wellbeing programme

Another way of preventing presenteeism is ensuring that you have a comprehensive support system in place to help your employees feel their best. A good wellbeing programme is therefore essential for any business. To be fully effective and inclusive, your programme should include a variety of services and resources that cover emotional, financial and physical wellbeing. Here are some examples of the kind of support you could provide.

Mental wellbeing resources

From stress-busting guides or mental health advice and support in the form of blogs, podcasts or videos, you can provide a wide range of helpful content that will equip your employees with the tools to cope with any mental health struggles they may have.

Healthcare services

For employees that require medical support, healthcare services will help them get better quicker. Whether it’s a health cash plan or discounted eyecare, for example, these kind of services will be valuable for employees that have medical concerns or are suffering from injuries or illnesses.

Financial support

Money can be a primary cause of stress and anxiety for many people. Providing employees with access to money advice and financial support is therefore a really valuable wellbeing feature.

Offer flexible working

Taking a whole day off work might not be necessary for all your employees, they might just need to adjust their working pattern to accommodate their needs. Introducing flexible working is therefore a great way to combat presenteeism because it gives your employees the option to modify their working regime. Whether it’s working from home or shifting their hours around, your employees will be able to optimise their productivity while reducing stress/supporting their health. 

Presenteeism should be on your business’ radar if you want your employees to be inspired, motivated and engaged when they come into work. Culture and mind-set play a huge part in the condition, but you can also deliver benefits that will support your employees and give them the flexibility to manage their work/life balance better.

This article is provided by peoplevalue.

In partnership with peoplevalue – The Employee Engagement Company

We are a leading provider of employee reward&recognition, benefits delivery&wellbeing solutions.

Contact us today


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