What is Presenteeism in the workplace and why it should be avoided!

Written by Alfie Webster

What is presenteeism in the workplace?

Presenteeism in the workplace is the situation where employees report to work despite feeling tired or sick, which considerably affects their productivity. If you're only showing up at work to receive your paycheck and your job is making you sick/ill, that's also a form of presenteeism.

Causes of presenteeism in the workplace?

If you start a new job and hear an employee proudly state, "I haven't taken a day off in a year." This could be considered as an accomplishment which needs to be followed by all especially if received with reward. Either the company is promoting a toxic culture of overworking, or perhaps this individual holds themselves to unrealistic standards. Either way, chances are, they have dragged themselves into work not feeling their best at some point.

Presenteeism can happen when workers are given unrealistic expectations by the employer such as not taking their paid holiday or days off, almost feeling as if they must conform to these standards and compromise their ability to get ahead in the company.

There is also the flip side where the employee doesn’t have enough paid time off and they’ve run out of paid days off. This is common among sole income earners as they simply cannot afford to take an unpaid day off, as they may have rent/mortgages to pay and mouths to feed.

Lastly, feeling unwell doesn’t stop at mental health, this can be just as bad if not worse than physical illnesses. Many people feel a stigma or judgement taking a day off due to mental health reasons and therefore will force themselves into work, and struggle to provide any form of decent product from their work as they’re suffering mentally.

How to identify presenteeism in the workplace:

  • A reduction in performance in an employee who used to perform exemplary
  • Reporting to work late and leaving earlier
  • Looking sickly and tired
  • Working longer hours than usual

How to avoid Presenteeism:

Firstly, your organisation must put employee mental health at a forefront of importance. If you witness employees or colleagues having a difficult time in their personal life, don't be afraid to reach out to them and offer your support. Knowing that managers and peers sympathise and understand when a particular employer is not well does wonders for employee morale.

This encourages open communication, by encouraging open communication in the workplace and training managers, employees can easily open up about the issues affecting them rather than keeping quiet and suffering in silence. Additionally, they will find it easy to ask for sick leave whenever they are sick to recover first and then report back to work. This will encourage employees to promote their wellness when they are back and will show great appreciation for the support showed.

Promoting wellness in your organisation is one of the most effective ways of reducing presenteeism. You can do this by introducing employee wellness programs which help employees remain fit, preventing many health conditions that may reduce their productivity.

Also offering flexible working hours can make the work of an employee easier by allowing them to report an hour later so that they can take care of other responsibilities first. They can then leave work an hour later after the set leaving time to compensate for the lost hour in the morning. This will show you value the employees personal needs.


With the right systems and policies in place, you can encourage a workplace where the physical and mental wellness of your employees is taken as a serious matter. As a result, people will take time off when they need it, without fear of judgement or being criticized. This will result in much higher levels of productivity, providing greater results for both the company and the employee.

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