What is Presenteeism?

Gary Johns defined presenteeism as ‘Showing up for work when one is ill.’ Presenteeism refers to lost productivity when employees are not performing well at work because of an illness, injury, or other condition. Even though the employee may be physically at work, they may need help to perform their duties and are likely to make significant mistakes.

As suggested by Middaugh (2006), an alternative perspective introduces the idea of being “physically present at work but functionally absent.” This implies a scenario where an employee may be at work but not actively contributing to their tasks, raising concerns about the cost for the organization.

The concept of presenteeism extends beyond physical presence, considering factors like external motivators and non-work-related goals that can influence employee behavior during work hours.

However, studies also suggested that presenteeism can positively affect employees. The feeling of accomplishment, social interaction, and the sense of being needed are some of the benefits experienced or potential by employees who work while unwell. But it differs from case to case.

What are the causes of presenteeism?

Now that we have a brief idea on the meaning of presenteeism. Let’s understand the factors that contribute to presenteeism in the workplace.

  • Organizational and Cultural Factors: Cultures that emphasize long hours and physical presence create an environment where employees feel compelled to work even when they are ill.
  • Organizational Policies and Economic Climate: In uncertain economic times, employees may be concerned about job security and avoid taking sick leave due to inflexible absence policies.
  • Job Demands and Workplace Stress: Employees may feel pressured to meet expectations due to high job demands, tight deadlines, and stressful work environments.
  • Personal Factors: A strong work ethic and dedication may motivate employees to continue working despite feeling unwell, fearing taking time off will hinder their career advancement.

What is the difference between presenteeism and absenteeism?

The relationship between presenteeism and absenteeism is more complex than originally thought. Presenteeism and absenteeism are two workplace conditions that can significantly impact employee productivity, engagement, and company culture. While they may seem like opposite ends of the spectrum, they are closely related.

Absenteeism is an employee’s absence from work outside of scheduled absences like annual leave/vacation and regularly scheduled days off. This may include excessive sickness-related absences, no-shows, and lateness.

On the other hand, presenteeism is when an employee is present at work too often, to the detriment of their productivity. It usually occurs when an employee comes into work despite being sick, injured, or working for too long without taking time off (such as annual leave).

Both conditions come with severe direct and indirect costs, quantifiable costs related to productivity and turnover, and adverse effects on employee engagement and company culture that are harder to quantify.

Reducing presenteeism and absenteeism is in the company’s best interest.

Areas of Distinguish Absenteeism Presenteeism  


Refers to the employee’s intentional or unintentional act of being absent from work, leading to a decrease in productivity. 


Involves employees physically present at work but performing below their optimal level due to health issues, stress, or personal challenges. 


Nature of Impact: 


Results in a direct loss of work hours, impacting task completion and overall productivity. Leads to reduced quality and efficiency as employees may struggle to perform at their best while physically present. 


Evident through an employee’s absence from the workplace, easily observable by supervisors and colleagues. 


Often less noticeable as employees are physically at work, making it challenging to recognize their reduced performance levels. 


Commonly caused by illness, personal issues, or dissatisfaction with the work environment Arises from health issues, stress, burnout, or the fear of negative consequences for taking time off. 
Organizational Impact: Directly affects workflow and may require adjustments in work distribution to compensate for missing team members. Can lead to a decline in overall team productivity, potential spread of illness, and long-term negative effects on employee well-being. 


What are some common examples of presenteeism?

Let’s help you understand better with some examples.

In a bustling workplace, a dedicated manager leads, by example, juggling illness and workload. A workaholic executive, buried in tasks, battles burnout while striving for success. Across departments, skilled professionals, pressured by ambition, grapple with productivity demands. Amidst the hustle, an insomniac employee struggles with exhaustion, longing for rest. Older workers face health challenges in the corridors, navigating a maze of discomfort. Each faces corporate challenges; it strives to thrive amidst vulnerability and perseverance.

These are three hypothetical scenarios to help you better understand presenteeism and how sublime its effects can be. Thus, here are some common examples for presenteeism:

  • Showing commitment by attending work even when unwell, potentially compromising health.
  • Demonstrating dedication through regular overtime, risking burnout and diminished efficiency.
  • Choosing to work during weekends or holidays showcases a strong work ethic but affects work-life balance.
  • Consistently working beyond scheduled hours, indicating dedication but raising concerns about employee well-being.
  • Maintaining constant availability outside regular hours, exhibiting commitment but potentially contributing to chronic stress.
  • Willingly assuming extra responsibilities, showcasing dedication but risking increased workload and potential burnout.
  • Neglecting regular breaks and lunchtime to stay engaged in work continuously, demonstrating commitment but raising concerns about mental and physical health.

What are the consequences of presenteeism?

A mental health report by Deloitte found that turnover, absenteeism, and presenteeism in the workplace cost the UK economy £53-56 billion in 2022. Besides, presenteeism in any office can lead to a variety of negative consequences. Like, loss of employee productivity and engagement, increase in mental health issues, spread of sickness, lower morale, impact the business from the niche.

The major consequences of presenteeism however includes;

  1. Illness reduces productivity and increases the risk of mistakes and more extended absences.
  2. Mental disorders can impair careful work, posing potential dangers in specific roles.
  3. Estimating the monetary impact of presenteeism is challenging, but studies indicate significant economic costs.
  4. Depression, with its prevalence and co-morbidity, merits special attention in the workplace.
  5. Fatigue exacerbates presenteeism, forming a detrimental cycle in productivity.
  6. Supervisor support, workplace adjustments, health interventions, and promoting healthy lifestyles can help mitigate the impact of presenteeism.

How to measure presenteeism in the workplace?

Ways to measure presenteeism include:

  • Presenteeism survey: The World Health Organization’s Health and Work Performance Survey Questionnaire method can help organizations measure presenteeism in the workplace.
  • Hour calculation: To calculate presenteeism, you can use these standard formulas:
Total employee cost per hour x 1.2 = Average cost of presenteeism to your organization per hour per employee

Here’s how you can calculate the total employee cost per hour:

Total employees’ gross salary / Number of employees = Average annual salary per employee / 52 weeks = Average weekly salary / 40 (hours in contract per week) = Average employee cost per hour
  • Calculate the health and wellness numbers: Monitoring health and wellness metrics such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index can help identify potential health issues.
  • Client satisfaction results: Assessing client satisfaction and retention rates can help identify presenteeism’s effects
  • Individual and team result tracking: Analyzing individual and team performance metrics can help identify whether presenteeism affects productivity.

How to reduce presenteeism in the workplace?

To address the issues of presenteeism or sickness presence, McCurry (2016) provided 5 ways to help organizations tackle it. Well, here are they;

  • Prioritize output over input: Focus on the quality of work rather than rewarding employees for working through illness. Encourage taking time off when unwell.
  • Policy overhaul: Review and update policies to support employee health, including flexible working hours and remote work options.
  • Identify causes: Address factors contributing to presenteeism, such as long working hours, job insecurity, and operational demands prioritizing employee well-being.
  • Recognize symptoms: Be vigilant for signs of presenteeism, such as low productivity and increased errors, and take proactive steps to address underlying causes.
  • Wellness program: Implement a comprehensive wellness program promoting healthy behaviors, offering counseling services, health screenings, and exercise classes.

Besides, you can;

  • Encourage open communication: Nurture a culture where employees feel comfortable discussing health concerns and taking necessary time off.
  • Provide healthcare benefits: Offer healthcare benefits like health insurance, paid sick leave, and mental health support to help employees manage their well-being effectively.
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