Presenteeism in the Workplace

By Amanda Beattie
29 May 2019

According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), in 2018 employers lost over 30.7 million working days on account of work-related ill health and non-fatal workplace injuries.

Presenteeism occurs when employees spend time at work when they shouldn’t be. Absenteeism, on the other hand, involves absence from work without a valid reason.

They’re recognised as major contributing factors towards health costs within an organisation.

A 2011 report by Work Foundation shows that presenteeism costs businesses just over £30 billion annually while they also predict absenteeism will cost employers just over £21 billion by 2020.

This piece delves into absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace. It also explores the causes of these issues and offers tips to manage them.


What is presenteeism in the workplace?

It's when an employee attends work despite issues that suggest they shouldn't be there. For example, a staff member may be sick or experiencing grief but still comes into work.

Research by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows the average number of sickness absence days employees took in 2017 was almost half of what it was in 1993.

Part of this change is down to the fact that some staff members may be reluctant to take time off work to recover from an illness. In other words, they’re physically at work but their mind isn’t.

As well as affecting their productivity, it could also affect the health of other members of your team. For example, if an employee has the flu and decides to come into work anyway, they’re putting their colleagues at risk of transferring the influenza virus.

A CIPD survey estimated that nearly three-quarters of employees surveyed across all sectors and sizes of organisations report to having observed presenteeism in the workplace.

And research by the Centre for Mental Health shows a strong link between presenteeism and mental health issues.

It estimated that ‘sickness presence’ arising from issues relating to mental health costs the UK economy £15.1 billion a year. While absenteeism accounts for £8.4 billion of the overall costs related to workplace absence.

While most employers are aware of the impact of absenteeism, presenteeism is of lesser concern. This is because it’s harder to measure the impact it has on productivity and overall revenue.

In as much as unnecessary absences can affect morale and put additional pressure on other staff members, attending work when sick also has its effects on the workplace.

If left unaddressed, presenteeism can have long-lasting effects on your employees’ mental health.


Causes of presenteeism

Your employees may come to work when ill for a variety of reasons.

Common reasons for presenteeism in the workplace include:

  • To save on sick days or holiday allowances.
  • For a sense of job security.
  • Out of loyalty to the job or co-workers.
  • Pressure from supervisor or manager.
  • No sick pay if the absence is less than four days.
  • Financial worries.
  • Depression, anxiety, stress and other mental health-related issues.


How to measure presenteeism

The process for measuring absenteeism is as easy as monitoring the number of people that aren’t physically at work. For presenteeism, it’s more complex. However, if done right, it should help to form a clear picture of the presence of your workforce.

There’re a number of tools available for measuring presenteeism in the workplace on the basis of self-reported reductions in performance.

One example is the World Health Organisation’s health and work performance questionnaire. It’s designed to calculate the cost of health issues in terms of declines in performance and increases in sickness absences and work-related injuries.

There’s also the Stanford Presenteeism Scale (SPS). This report asks employees to show their level of productivity (in percentage) compared to the previous month and as a result of illness.

The result is then used to estimate the cost of presenteeism via the total work output score.


Managing presenteeism

As well as saving money both long and short-term, effectively managing absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace contributes to an increase in employee engagement and their productivity.

Consider the following steps to tackle presenteeism in the workplace:

  • Identify the problem: The first step to solving any problem is recognising there’s a problem in the first place.
  • Addressing the issue: If problems arise as a result of too much work or pressure from management, you should consider reasonable adjustments like reorganising workloads, offering flexible working hours or hiring more employees.
  • Lead by example: It’s important to practice what you preach. If you’re feeling unwell, you should stay at home. This shows your employees that when they’re feeling ill they should also do the same. Consider remote working if you think there’re things you need to address.
  • Send them home: Another way to combat presenteeism in the workplace is by sending sick employees home. By allowing employees who’re visibly sick to stay at work you’re fostering a culture that encourages other staff members to do the same.
  • Employee wellbeing: A survey by Barclays in 2014 showed that one in five employees worry that their finances affect their performance at work. The same applies to their physical and mental health. Consider implementing policies that take into account stresses that your staff face in and out of work.


It’s important to re-evaluate your sickness and absence policies. This is to ensure they’re understood and implemented correctly.

You should also invest in training for supervisors and managers to enable them to identify and address the signs of stress.


Expert support

Dealing with disputes at work can be a long-winded process. We can offer you up-to-date advice and guide you through the process. Call Croner for HR advice on 0808 145 3380.

About the Author

Amanda Beattie

Amanda represents corporate clients and large public bodies, including complex discrimination and whistleblowing claims. Amanda also drafts and delivers bespoke training regarding all aspects of employment law, including ‘mock tribunal’ events; in addition she also frequently drafts employment law articles for various publications for Croner and their clients.

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