Presenteeism and its Effect on Workplace Productivity

presenteeism in the workplace

Everyone deals with periods of ill health from time to time. Sometimes, we need time to recuperate. However, there is a persistent trend for some employees to come to work even when they are not feeling their best. This is known as presenteeism.

Presenteeism refers to employees coming to work even when they are unwell, which results in reduced productivity. Absenteeism, or employees taking time off work unnecessarily, has long been recognised as a productivity issue. But presenteeism presents a different challenge for employers and organisations.

This blog will discuss presenteeism, its effects on productivity, and measures employers can take to combat it.

How Do We Define Presenteeism in the UK?

Presenteeism is when employees attend work despite physical or mental health challenges. They may do this because they want to meet work demands, feel uncertain about their job, or worry about their job performance. There are many causes of presenteeism.

Sometimes, it can become a part of the workplace culture, where employees are expected to show up even if they're not well. Many employees believe they must show their commitment and avoid the stigma of being absent.

Differentiating between Presenteeism and Absenteeism

Unlike absenteeism, which involves taking a sick day and being away from work without proper cause, presenteeism refers to working unwell.

Organisations and HR professionals can implement effective wellness programs to support their employees' health and productivity by differentiating between presenteeism and absenteeism. Our Health, Well-being and Wellness Awareness Course covers this and is designed for all employees.

Factors Leading to Presenteeism

Several factors contribute to the prevalence of presenteeism in the workplace. Employees may feel pressure to meet job demands or be responsible for others, or a culture may emphasise long working hours and high workloads. They may fear the negative consequences of taking time off, like reprimands, pressure from management, and decreased job security. If they do not receive paid sick leave, they may feel unable to afford the time off.

Let's look more closely at how heavy workloads and an employee's health contribute towards presenteeism.

Job Demands and Workloads

Employees facing heavy workloads and tight deadlines may feel compelled to work, even when unwell. They must meet expectations and avoid negative consequences like performance reviews or job loss. These feelings can lead to a culture of presenteeism, creating an environment where employees prioritise work over their wellbeing.

By their nature, high workloads and extended hours impact employees' physical and mental health. Employees may experience burnout, exhaustion, and heightened stress levels, making them more susceptible to attending work when they should be recovering. Presenteeism becomes cyclical and more damaging.

Addressing job demands and workloads is essential in creating a supportive work environment that promotes employee wellbeing and minimises presenteeism.

Health and Wellbeing Factors

Health problems, both physical and mental, are significant contributors to presenteeism in the workplace. Employees experiencing ongoing physical health problems, such as chronic illnesses, pain, or fatigue, may choose to work despite their conditions, resulting in decreased productivity and performance.

Mental health conditions also play a significant role in presenteeism. Employees struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges may feel pressure to hide their conditions and continue working, leading to productivity loss and potential long-term negative consequences for their wellbeing.

Addressing health factors, both physical and mental, can help combat presenteeism. Employers can create a workplace culture that supports employees in prioritising their health and seeks to break the stigma surrounding mental health conditions. Providing resources and access to healthcare services can go a long way toward empowering employees and reducing the occurrence of presenteeism.

The Impact of Presenteeism on Productivity

Presenteeism can have a significant impact on workplace productivity. When employees work while unwell, they are likely to be less focused, perform at a reduced level, and make errors. This results in a 'productivity gap'. A reduction in productivity compared to what an employee can generally accomplish.

The productivity gap caused by presenteeism can be costly for businesses. Employees working at less than their best can lead to decreased efficiency, increased absenteeism in the long run, and potential negative impacts on the quality of work and customer satisfaction. Therefore, understanding the effects of presenteeism is essential for employers to ensure optimal productivity and employee performance in the workplace. And there are other consequences.

Sickness and Exhaustion in Employees

The toll of presenteeism on employees can lead to poor health, exhaustion, and burnout. Not allowing time to rest and recover can worsen symptoms.

The organisation's failure to acknowledge this challenge can result in increased sick days and decreased employee morale. Supporting employees' healthcare needs supports their well-being and fosters a supportive environment. Addressing presenteeism can help prevent burnout and promote a better work environment.

presenteeism culture has negative consequences

Presenteeism: Temporary Employment and Permanent Employment

The impact of presenteeism extends to employees in temporary and permanent roles, influencing their work performance. Addressing presenteeism ensures the wellbeing of all employees, regardless of their status within the organisation. The consequences of presenteeism can result in employees coming to work when they should have taken a sick day, ultimately impacting their health, the overall working day and their coworkers.

Presenteeism: Remote and Hybrid Working

The increase in remote working has caused presenteeism to become more common. Employees working from different locations make presenteeism more difficult for employers to identify.

When a remote worker is ill, they are more likely to 'show up' for work than a non-remote worker. An unwell hybrid worker may choose to work from home rather than travel to work when they should take a sick day instead.

Employee Consequences of Presenteeism

Presenteeism's consequences impact the overall organisation, the individual employee, and their colleagues.

Impact on Employee Well-being

If an employee continues to attend work while unwell, they will be unable to recover fully. This is particularly true in the case of mental health issues. They cannot rest, which could lengthen or worsen their health problem. In addition to not allowing proper recovery, reduced productivity can lead to lower morale and stress.

Workplace Epidemics

We are all familiar with the need for social distancing when we have a virus. If an employee with a contagious illness comes to work, it will lead to an unhealthy workplace. Passing the illness to their colleagues will cause them to be unwell, and lead to increased absence rates. Further presenteeism would exacerbate all of the consequences we have already discussed.

employee presenteeism can lead to an unhealthy workforce

Measures to Reduce Presenteeism

The first step is to assess if your organisation has a culture of presenteeism and what the reasons for this might be. You can do this by consulting your workforce. Some organisations obtain this information by requesting the completion of an anonymous survey to find out what staff think.

You can create an action plan once you have identified where changes are needed. This could include:

  • Reviewing your policies. Establish a sickness policy that encourages recovery time and an absence policy that supports wellness and a healthy return to work.
  • Improving how secure employees feel. Offer sick pay and guaranteed hours of work to help employees feel more able to take time off when they need to.
  • Checking in regularly. Encourage line managers to communicate with employees to identify issues that may lead to presenteeism. They can recognise the signs by taking our Managing Health, Well-being, and Wellness Course.

Role of Health, Well-being and Wellness Training

Health, well-being, and wellness training raises awareness about presenteeism among employees. These programs are designed to help employees manage mental health issues effectively, addressing the impact of presenteeism and promoting overall wellbeing. By educating employees about mental health conditions, wellness training can lessen the workplace's presenteeism culture. Furthermore, practical wellness training can reduce presenteeism costs, creating a positive and supportive environment for employees' mental and physical health.


Presenteeism is a growing concern in workplaces around the world. It not only leads to a loss in productivity but also negatively impacts the well-being of employees. To combat presenteeism, employers must prioritise mental health awareness and provide their workforce with health, well-being, and wellness training. Employers can actively combat presenteeism and promote a healthier, more productive workplace by creating a supportive environment and encouraging open communication.

If you want to become more conscious of health and wellness in the workplace, follow the links below for our management and awareness courses.

Further Reading

What is Workplace Stress? - How to Cope and How to Help

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Techniques for Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing

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A Guide to Health and Wellbeing: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

A Guide to Health and Wellbeing: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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How To Promote Physical Wellbeing?

How To Promote Physical Wellbeing?

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Manage Wellbeing at the Workplace: Employer Responsibilities

Manage Wellbeing at the Workplace: Employer Responsibilities

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Bethany Wesson

Bethany Wesson

Bethany is a freelance content writer and has produced articles for the Commodious Knowledge Bank since 2023. She has written about various health and safety topics, from asbestos to mindful business practices.

  • Heath and Safety
  • Mental Health
  • Mental Health Awareness
  • Business
  • Social Wellbeing
  • Stress
  • Management
  • Presenteeism