Presenteeism In The Workplace

05th March 2019

Presenteeism poses one of the largest threats to productivity in the workplace, and over recent years it has become a real issue in the workplace. With organisations more readily thinking about the health and wellbeing of their employees, addressing how presenteeism plays a part in this is key. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) 72% of organisations had experienced presenteeism in the last 12 months, and a further 29% had seen an increase in the issue. But what is presenteeism in the workplace, and how do we act to address it?

What Is Presenteeism At Work?

As an employer or an employee, it’s important to understanding what presenteeism actually is so that we can work to address the issue. Ask yourself this, are you still likely to turn up for work even though you’re feeling unwell? You don’t feel at your best, but you’ll still turn up to work because you feel you have to, or you feel that your illness doesn’t warrant a day off. If you answered yes to the question, you’re contributing to the issue that is presenteeism. You’re going to work even if you are unwell.

A study by Bupa found that two-thirds of employees have gone to work despite being unwell in the last 12 months. Going on from this, employees can potentially delay their recovery by going to work despite suffering from mental health, or back and neck conditions. A large statistic that says a lot about this issue is that a quarter (26%) of people worry that their absence will be a burden on their team. We’re worried about letting our team down when in reality we can’t perform at our best and we’re actually prolonging our illness by not taking sufficient time to recover. Employers are starting to realise that presenteeism is an issue and that it needs to be addressed.

Why Are Employees Coming Into Work When They’re Ill?

So we know that employees are coming into work despite feeling unwell. But why? It’s not uncommon for employees to feel looked down on if they take time off sick, and so instead decide to go in. In fact, one in four (27%) employees ignore their doctor’s orders to stay at home and ‘soldier on’. It’s often part of a workplace culture that no one takes time off, which is an unhealthy environment to be in. Other reasons employees are still coming into work when they’re ill may be:

  • They’re worried about the financial implications of taking a day off work, or can’t afford it
  • They feel that their illness does not warrant a day off
  • They’re worried about their workload
  • Not feeling secure enough in their job or are feeling threatened by the risk of redundancy
  • They aren’t confident they could secure a doctor’s note

Mental Health Is A Problem Too

When we’re talking about presenteeism, we’re not just referring to employees coming into work when they’ve got a physical illness. Presenteeism is a massive problem when it comes to mental health. 29% of employees head to work when suffering from mental health issues such as depression. Part of this comes down to the stigma around mental health in the workplace; employees find it difficult to bring up and discuss with their managers.

There is a lack of awareness around sick days for mental health in both the media and in the workplace. Every single employee in the UK is well within their rights to take a day off work in order to look after their mental/psychological health and wellbeing. It’s time we make mental health days part of workplace culture and making communication about mental health as easy and open as possible. Addressing presenteeism is one thing, but addressing presenteeism around mental health is something much bigger. It’s important to remember (as an employer and employee) that attending work when you’re physically or mentally unwell will have a significant impact of productivity, quality of work and will ultimately lengthen recovery time.

How Can Employers Tackle Presenteeism?

The key to tackling presenteeism is to have clearer communication and adjust the workplace culture surrounding absences. It should be made clear to employees that if they are feeling physically or mentally unwell, and are unable to perform at their best, they should stay at home. By making it okay to have a day off for illness, employees will be less worried about upsetting management or being seen as less dedicated to their role.

As an employer, you could also look at flexible work options (such as working from home) or introducing a reduced workload to help to deal with absences due to illness. For longer absences, look at back to work schemes or workplace support to ease an employee back into their role.

How Can Occupational Health Help?

There are times in life where employees need longer than a few days off work, whether that be due to a larger operation, pregnancy or struggles with an illness where employees aren’t fit to work. In this case, it’s important to get a trained occupational health advisor in to help you with sickness management. Depending on employees’ circumstances, an occupational health advisor like ourselves will use either use:

  • Proactive management – Generally used for planned absences, this can include; managing expectations, allowing time to plan for the absence and ensuring a smooth and productive return to work. This may include a phased return with reduced hours or duties that are gradually increased.
  • Reactive absence management –  An unplanned absence that is solely focused on an employee’s return to work and determining when they will be fit to do so.

You can find out more about our sickness management service here.

Presenteeism is a real issue for workers and organisations across the UK, and it’s important that it is addressed. Employees need to feel secure in their job, and be able to take a day off due to illness, should they need it. Not only will this allow employees to recover more quickly, but they will also perform more efficiently and productively in their role when feeling at their best. If you would like to find out more about presenteeism or sickness management, get in touch with our team – we’re here to help!


Request a callback

Tell us your name and number below and we'll give you a callback to discuss your requirements.

Request a callback