Health Assured team

30 January 2020

At some point, all employees will encounter a mental or physical illness. And depending on the severity of it, they may need time off to fully recover. 

Yet, it’s very common for some employees to come to work despite being unwell. Whilst this might look like the sign of a dedicated employee, it actually does more harm than good to a business.

In 2022, a mental health report by Deloitte found that turnover, absenteeism, and presenteeism in the workplace cost the UK economy £53-56 billion last year. 

The main contributing factor to this figure is presenteeism, meaning there's an urgency for employers to take action.

In this article, we’ll dive a little deeper into what presenteeism is, the costs at work, and how to manage it.

What is presenteeism at work?

Presenteeism is when an employee is constantly present at work despite being unwell.

Illnesses are unpreventable; and taking time off work is completely normal. Yet some employees feel the need to continue working despite their sickness.

Presenteeism is the exact opposite of absenteeism at work. This is when your staff don’t come into work; and don’t have a good reason for their absence. Both absenteeism and presenteeism have serious long-term consequences for overall business.

Some of the most common examples of presenteeism include:

  • Attending work despite being sick.
  • Working overtime regularly.
  • Coming into work on the weekend or during holidays.
  • Working outside of work hours.
  • Answering calls and emails (staying ‘contactable’ or ‘logged-in’).

Why do employees practice presenteeism?

There are various reasons why an employee will feel the need to work beyond their contractual hours. Presenteeism occurs when employees face:

  • Unreasonable workloads and deadlines.
  • A lack of paid sick leave.
  • Uncertainty for job security.
  • Pressure for business loyalty.
  • Pressure from understaffing issues.
  • Harassment from taking leave.

What are the consequences of presenteeism?

There are many consequences having a presenteeism culture at work.

It’s found to decrease productivity and efficiency, as sick employees cannot work to the best of their ability. It also creates a domino-effect on other staff members. (If an illness spreads between more workers, productivity may decrease further). 

And when it comes to health and safety, the risks grow further. Presenteeism leads to insufficient use of dangerous or heavy machinery, which leads to serious health & safety risks.

Presenteeism and mental health

It’s important to consider the link between presenteeism and mental health.

You must recognise the importance of working in good health–and maintain this during work hours. If not, the causes of presenteeism can lead to depressionanxietystress and other mental health conditions.

According to the same report, presenteeism increased since the start of the COVID pandemic. The report highlighted 47% of employees work despite their poor mental health and believed they’d benefit from time off.  

CIPD suggest that the rapid increase in homeworking could contribute to the cost of presenteeism. This is a factor to consider when thinking about the mental health of your remote workers.

Business impacts

As well as saving money in the short and long-term, managing presenteeism can eliminate business impacts. Through this, you’ll be able to develop an engaging and healthy workforce.

Presenteeism and productivity go hand in hand. If employees take time off when they need it, it saves businesses big costs in the long run. This change might not mean much in one single employee. But across the entire workforce, it makes a big difference.  

How to manage presenteeism

Measuring presenteeism isn’t as straightforward as one might think.

However, there are various methods for measuring presenteeism at work. While one method may be suitable for one business, it may not be for another.

Here are ways to manage presenteeism in the workplace:

Create a presenteeism policy

If you recognise presenteeism as a problem within your organisation, create a presenteeism policy.

This policy should outline what constitutes for presenteeism, what the rules are, and more importantly, the consequences.

It should also outline your rules on sick leave, pay, and support. This will encourage employees to take efficient leave without having to worry about finances or allegiance.

Manage absences appropriately  

It might seem like an unrelatable step. But most of the time, presenteeism happens because attendance isn’t regulated.

That’s why it’s so important to manage it–especially absences–properly. By doing so, you can see who is avoiding taking sick leave or neglecting their annual holiday rights.

Your absence procedures should include:

  • Reporting and recording absences.
  • Providing evidence for illnesses.
  • Aiding with return to work (along with interviews and adjustments).
  • Providing information on sick leave and pay.
  • Allowing leave for medical appointments.

Lead by example

As an employer, you need to practice what you preach. If you don’t want your staff to come to work while they're ill, then you shouldn’t either. Avoid creating a workplace culture which accepts presenteeism.

Encourage employees to give themselves appropriate time to recover properly. If they face any issues or concerns, they can get in touch. However, once they’ve taken sick leave, ensure they take time to recover.

Outline disciplinary action

In some cases, being physically and mentally present is crucial during work. This is especially important in high-risk sectors like, public services or medical fields.

If an employee continues to work overtime or unsafely within these sectors, the risks fall on themselves and the public. Outline disciplinary action for anyone who disregards presenteeism regulations.

That way, all employees will be fully aware and respect the rules on the practice. This in turn will lead to a healthy workplace culture.

Health Assured can help you prevent presenteeism at work  

With adequate workplace support for mental health, presenteeism levels will decline. This is where an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) comes in.

At Health Assured, we offer bespoke EAPs which provide wellbeing support, counselling, and financial information to support staff during tough times.

To find out more about how you can start to make a difference, call one of our wellbeing consultants today on 0800 206 2532.

To find out more about how you can start to make a difference Request a Demo call one of our wellbeing consultants today on 0800 206 2532

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