Is presenteeism an issue in the workplace?

There is significant evidence that presenteeism is widespread in the UK and it’s having a huge impact on productivity. According to the Chartered Management Institute, “UK employees are three times as likely to go to work unwell than pull a sickie.”

While on the face of things, this might not sound like a problem, if you dig into the issues associated with presenteeism the implications are not pretty.

Simply put, presenteeism is the phenomenon where employees attend work while feeling unwell and don’t perform at their full capacity.

Presenteeism has many different faces. An employee might be dragging themselves into the office despite having a really nasty bug. Needless to say, they’re not going to get much work done and will probably pass the virus to their colleagues.

Other forms of presenteeism are less visible. Employees may be suffering from mental health problems and still turning up at the office. How might this affect their decision-making abilities? What about the effect on the people they work with? And will this affect their mental health in the longer term.

The decision by an employee on whether to call in sick or turn up at work ill is rarely based on simple information around health and the ability to perform specific tasks. There are many factors which influence workers to make such decisions. The drivers of presenteeism include:

  • Cultural factors
  • Team commitment
  • Job-related pressures and workload
  • Personality
  • Contractual obligations and job security
  • Financial circumstances
  • Certain health factors
  • A poor work-life balance


Presenteeism has mostly negative effects, including:

  • Productivity loss
  • Poor decision making
  • Lower team morale
  • Poor physical and mental employee health
  • Mental health damage
  • Burnout
  • Workplace epidemics such as cold and sickness

How can small businesses deal with presenteeism?

There’s no magic button to prevent presenteeism. It’s a complex situation with a range of drivers. Here are some of the ways in which small businesses can start to understand presenteeism and work towards reducing it.

As many as 62% of 18-24 year olds say they’ve felt pressure to be in work while unwell. In this situation, managers should encourage these employees to take time off if and when they need

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