How to deal with presenteeism in the workplace

Employee absence figures are increasing and so is presenteeism, that is coming into work when you’re sick, threatening the health and productivity of all your employees. According to the CIPD Absence Management Survey 2014, average employee absences have decreased by a day – from 7.6 down to 6.6 days.

But a third of employers reported employees struggling into work ill, perhaps spurred on by worries over job security. If employees are coming into work whilst ill, there is a high chance that they will not be as productive as when they are well. Plus, they could be increasing the chances of other staff becoming unwell and taking leave or working at a reduced capacity.

A 2010 report from the Work Foundation and Axa PPP discovered that the cost of presenteeism could match or account for one-and-a-half times more working time lost than the cost of sickness absence.

Managing presenteeism can not only save you money in the long term, but it can help to create a more productive and committed workforce.

Look at the culture of the company

One of the main reasons that employees come in when they are not well is because they are fearful for their jobs, perhaps because of the threat of redundancy in the current climate, or because they won’t get full pay. Also, companies may have a culture where working through illness is the norm because that is what the owner or management do.

Be aware of any cultural trends such as these, either towards absence or presenteeism and address these. Monitor presenteeism It is a lot easier to identify absence in the workplace, so the focus is usually put on to measuring this.

However, this can give a misleading picture. Employers and managers need to understand the link between the two. For example, long periods of presenteeism can be the first indicator of a spell of absenteeism, so by managing one you may be able to reduce the other.

Presenteeism can be measured using monitoring, employee satisfaction surveys and regular performance reviews with staff to identify any problems early on.

Encourage employees to talk to a manager

Employees often don’t disclose that they have a health problem because they don’t feel that they can. By changing the culture of the company to be more open to discussing health and wellbeing, you can potentially prevent both presenteeism and absenteeism.

Train managers to spot the signs

Line managers and supervisors should be able to recognise that performance issues may be a sign of ill-health and to recognise the signs of stress.

Review your sickness policy

Aggressive absence policies which effectively punish employees for being ill, for example by not paying them full pay, are the main cause of presenteeism and, eventually, absence. Make sure your absence policies are fair and flexible.

Promote health and wellbeing

The key to developing a more healthy and productive workforce is raising the profile of health and wellbeing amongst employees and making it relevant to them at an individual level. You can do this through providing health benefits.

You can also reduce the risk of work-related stress. The Department for Work and Pensions has also produced a free Workplace Wellbeing Tool to help you assess your business.

For support with managing staff and to making sure you stay on the right side of the law, find out how the Forum can help. Call us on 0845 130 1722 or join now.


Employee absence figures are on the decline, according to a recent survey, which is good news for employers. But with this good news comes a sting in the tail – presenteeism, or coming into work when you’re sick, is on the increase, threatening the health of all your employees.