What Are You Doing About Presenteeism?

When there is a high rate of absence from work, we take action. Colleagues who have poor attendance will be managed more closely. Most HR functions use the Bradford Factor Score which is a strict guideline to help make policy clear.  You hear of cases where people are performance managed out of a business due to absenteeism. What I think is overlooked, is presenteeism.

Presenteeism – Wikipedia

Presenteeism or working while sick can cause productivity loss, poor health, exhaustion and workplace epidemics. While the contrasting subject of absenteeism has historically received extensive attention in the management sciences, presenteeism has only recently been studied.


You know the times you’ve had a really bad cold and still gone into work because you were scared of how your boss would react. You sit sipping on endless lemsips, sniffling at your desk doing very little and not only are you ill but also bitter at the fact you are in work suffering when you should be in bed. You get more run down by battling on and end up with full on flu and exhausted in bed all weekend. You go in Monday to find half the team sneezing after you spread your germs last week! You can see why this is not good for the business. They now have multiple employees at work but not being very productive.

Not only do we work whilst physically ill there are often employees who will be suffering from emotional and or mental health problems. You’ve seen the employee who comes into the office after suffering from bereavement and they often break down as it is just too much too soon. You might not notice colleagues suffering from anxiety, depression or other mental health related illnesses, these colleagues often hide it as they do not feel able to share. What you may notice is them making mistakes, being forgetful or taking longer to complete tasks, seeming distant. They may become less sociable and interact less with colleagues.

We sometimes don’t allow ourselves the time we need to fully recover. You’ve heard the saying “time is a healer” so why don’t we listen?

I think sometimes we think it will be good for us. The good old British saying ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ and that’s what we do. I admit I used to be the one slaving away and prolonging the suffering, but I have learnt now. Upon the first signs of becoming ill if I have a relaxing day, with lots of water fruit and veg I’m back feeling great and don’t really suffer. But when I battle on, it does start to feel like a battle!

If you are a manager ask yourself, would you rather an employee turn up for work all week but be very unproductive, risk affecting and even infecting other colleagues and making mistakes that cost the business time and money to correct? Or would you rather employees take one day to get themselves fit and well and then they’re back to work refreshed and super productive? I know one day may not always be enough, but you get the idea.

A practical exercise for managers if you want to review presenteeism in your teams: observe behaviours,

  • Is anyone acting out of character?
  • Has a team members output dropped?
  • Is someone making more mistakes than usual?
  • Who is reserved and not engaging with colleagues?

The answer is often not what is said, but what you see happening.

If you are wondering how you can approach it then here are 3 Top Tips

  1. Be aware of the causes. High workloads and demands can lead to colleagues avoiding taking time off. There isn’t always ‘buddy systems’ or cover provided for all employees. This can make them afraid of the repercussions if they were absent as there is nobody to cover their tasks. CIPD’s findings show that presenteeism is more common in companies where long working hours are seen as the norm, and where operational demands take precedence over employee well-being. Other causes identified were money troubles, work-related stress and perceived pressure from managers were all contributing factors
  2. Recognise the symptoms. If you spot signs of poor Mental Health early enough you can help prevent ongoing problems. Is the individual suddenly acting out of character, are they becoming distant, has their appearance changed? Most managers are not equipped to identify and deal with some issues. As awareness rises people are now starting to look at available training in this area to help manage their teams.
  3. Take action. Firstly take action to limit causes where possible for example, encourage colleagues to take lunch breaks, and prevent from working too many hours. Maybe it’s time to review your internal policies? Do you have guidance on how to adequately deal with both absenteeism and presenteeism? If not I would recommend you update these as soon as possible. Then take action to help support any colleagues displaying symptoms.

At Optimal PBS we are happy to discuss this and other queries regarding people management and development. If you would like to discuss this further or have any questions, then please do get in touch with us at enquiries@optimal-hr.co.uk. I think it’s a topic we should be discussing a lot more. I have added some useful guides below that may be of further interest.

We also deliver Mental Health Awareness Workshops both in-house and in various locations. This workshop is excellent for Team Leaders or Managers, Supervisors, Office Managers and other staff and will help spot the early signs of Mental Health in an employee. For more details on the workshop, drop us an email at the above email address or call us on 01422 471271.

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