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Fighting Presenteeism in the workplace

While presenteeism is in no way a new concept, 86% of employee’s admitted they had observed it in their workplace, a number that is continuously increasing.

So what are the causes of presenteeism?


Illness is a key factor contributing towards presenteeism. A recent CIPD survey states the number of employees coming into work when ill, resulting in reduced productivity, has more than tripled since 2010. Around 90% of UK firms’ absence bill is due to sickness, costing around £29 billion a year. Mental ill-health is the single most widespread cause of long term absence from the workplace, and is estimated to cost the UK economy £15.1 billion per annum from presenteeism alone, larger than that off related absenteeism. This is likely to be due to the negative stigma surrounding mental health conditions, with many opting to suffer in silence to avoid perceived judgement and continuing to remain at work rather than take the time they need.

Providing mental wellness resources, awareness seminars and training to managers will ensure the signs of an employee’s deteriorating mental health are noticed and managed appropriately to avoid increased presenteeism and/or long term absence. Implementing an effective health management strategy will help engage and support employees regarding their well-being.

On average, UK Workers take the highest numbers of sick days in the world.

The average number of sickness days taken by UK workers in a year is 9.1, compared to Western Europe’s average of 7.3 days, the US’s 4.9 days and Asia-Pacific taking just 2.2 days. While the UK number has decreased from previous years, our workers still take the highest number of sick days in the world.

Job Security

Job security is another important and influential factor. According to Dr Cary Cooper’s 1990 research, the insecurity brought on by widespread restructuring and company downsizing lead to employees feeling an urgency to prove their value by putting in more hours - or at least appear to be doing so. This is still true in 2019, with the growth of AI and automated alternatives, employees may feel uncertain and at risk. Managers must ensure employees feel valued and secure within their role and the company to avoid unnecessary costs.

How to fight presenteeism

Creating a positive and inclusive workplace culture is key to preventing presenteeism. Happy staff are productive staff. Stern sickness policies with minimal flexibility can further encourage absenteeism, encouraging an open-door policy will ensure employees feel comfortable explaining their situation and alterations can be made to ensure flexible working conditions surrounding individual circumstances to truly fight presenteeism.