Skip to content

The Problem with Presenteeism

In this crazy hiring market, you may feel lucky just to have roles filled. Your turnover rate is relatively low and absenteeism rates are below average. So your people issues are sorted, right? Wrong. Turnover and absenteeism may be your company’s go-to HR metrics for success, but it turns out that there is a hidden problem impacting your business even more – presenteeism.

What is Presenteeism?

In case you’re not familiar with the term, presenteeism occurs when employees turn up for work, despite not being well enough either physically or mentally to do their job. When employees report to work when they are not mentally present, they can’t operate to their usual level of productivity and performance deteriorates.

While it’s easy to calculate the costs of absenteeism, we now know that productivity lost due to presenteeism is actually three times greater than performance losses caused by absenteeism. This costs US businesses alone, hundreds of billions of dollars each year. This means that your sickness rates being low can actually present a false positive. Employees simply showing up is not an indicator of healthy employees. It can actually indicate high rates of presenteeism in your company.


What Are The Causes?

There are a number of factors that can influence whether an employee will take time off when they need it. What’s going on in your workplace that could be contributing to presenteeism?

Heavy workload

When employees have too much on their plate with no end in sight, it can feel like their job can’t get done within their regular working hours. Coming in early and staying late may seem like the answer, but on a long term basis long hours are not productive. Presenteeism is often more rampant in companies that have recently gone through a downsizing or restructuring. These circumstances can lead to double jobbing and job insecurity, with employees doing their best to prove their worth.

Employer expectations

There can be subtle cultural clues that make employees feel that it’s not OK to take time off. Besides worrying that they may appear less committed to their work, employees may also feel like it’s not worth it to take a day off because there are no mechanisms in place for the work to be done. This means coming back into an even longer to do list and an inbox full of emails with too much work to catch up on.

Personal expectations

A lot of employees hold themselves overly accountable for meetings they said they would attend or non-urgent deadlines. As a team member they may not want to let others down. Some are just pure workaholics.

Lack of paid time off

Many employers have adopted restrictive time off policies in an attempt to cut down on absenteeism. As a result, many employees can’t take a sick day when they need one because they simply can’t afford it or they need to save their days to be home when their children are sick.


How To Deal With It

Do some of the contributing factors above sound familiar? You may want to take on with the following steps for tackling presenteeism head on.

1. Figure out the cause

Take look at attendance rates and patterns. Gather data from a range of sources including managers and employees.

2. Look at your measures of success 

Bums in seats, clocking hours and immediate email responses? These metrics may be easy to measure, but they’re not good indicators of the bottom line.

3. Communicate with your managers and teams 

Train managers to look out for employees who are attending work even though they’re not all there due to illness, lack of motivation, family/life pressures or stress. The more managers are in tune with team, the easier it is to monitor presenteeism. Make sure your managers are leading by example and communicate clearly to employees that taking time off is not only acceptable, it’s encouraged. It’s important that employees feel trusted by their employer to take a day off when they actually need one.

4. Revisit your time off policies

Do you want to be an employer that gives the bare minimum, or one that goes above and beyond for their workers? Health benefits and flexible working policies also offer alternative options for employees to look after their physical and mental health. These proactive measures set a culture that supports taking time off for genuine illnesses.


It’s no longer acceptable to put employees on a pedestal for coming in sick to work. Presenteeism costs affect not only employee wellbeing but your company’s financial wellbeing too. If an employee needs to take a sick day, don’t give them a guilt trip – wish them a speedy recovery. Not only will this foster a health work environment for your teams, but will help your  company to go above and beyond productivity and profit goals.


Could you use some help with your HR processes?
Contact our team today for your free 30 minute consultation:

Are you interested in learning more about Envol's solutions?