Understanding and Managing Presenteeism

In In The Press by PCH Staff

In a recent article, we mentioned that short term absences were reducing. There are now worrying statistics that indicate that long term absences are on the increase. This is a symptom often known as presenteeism. Sadly, this is a reflection of modern life and we believe it is vital for employers to have a strategy to manage what will only become a greater problem in the future.

Presenteeism is the term used to describe when an employee comes to work even though they perhaps shouldn’t because of illness. This might go some way to explain why recent figures show that sickness absence is at a record low across the UK. After all, if employees are turning up for work when instead they should be taking a sick day, levels of recorded absence are going to be reduced.


Photo courtesy of anna gutermuth(CC Attribution)

However, while overall levels of absence have reached a record low, the same survey worryingly shows that mental health issues are on the rise and this could be a direct result of presenteeism.

Also, it’s worth highlighting that the Centre for Mental Health puts the cost of presenteeism from mental health to the UK economy at £15.1 billion per annum. Compare this to the £8.4 billion per annum cost of absenteeism and you begin to see the startling reality.

The cost implications are huge yet many employers don’t take the necessary steps to manage presenteeism and it often gets ignored. However, with financial savings in both the short and longer term, why is more not being done by employers to effectively manage presenteeism? Moreover, managing it well leads to a more engaged and productive workforce, which benefits your customers, your employees and you as a business.

Unfortunately with absenteeism and presenteeism both big problems for businesses today, the decision as to which one to focus on can be tricky. However, most organisations will have policies in place to manage absenteeism, but the same cannot be said of presenteeism.

So how can you, as an employer, manage presenteeism effectively?

Well, for a start, you need to recognise the impact that culture has on health and well-being. For employees, being treated fairly and equally leads to a better state of mind. Corporate policies need to be understood and administered equitably by all line managers across the board.

Better working relationships also help to reduce presenteeism. For example, individuals with mental health issues often feel as though they cannot talk about them in the workplace. It can be difficult to disclose such information to their line managers and even if they do, managers often lack training when it comes to responding to mental health related issues.

Therefore, all of your organisation’s line managers and employees should be better equipped to deal with mental health issues through specific training, including raising awareness and destigmatising health conditions like stress.

Absence management policies should be flexible and all line managers should be fully briefed on how to implement them. Any flexibilities should be clearly outlined and managers clear about when they can use their discretion when dealing with an employee who has a health problem.

General promotion of health and well-being in the workplace can help reduce both physical and mental health. Wellbeing strategies should be regularly reviewed and updated as a matter of policy.

When it comes to sickness absence and presenteeism, managing the underlying problem is much more effective than managing the symptoms. Organisational health and well-being strategies need to address both absenteeism and presenteeism equally. Working to reduce  the former will inevitably lead to a decrease in the latter.    

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