What is Presenteeism in the Workplace and How to Reduce it

There’s a growing issue in workplace culture that’s costing UK businesses billions every year and, no, it’s not absenteeism. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Presenteeism in the workplace has a huge impact on employee health and wellbeing, morale, and productivity. Poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion a year and research shows that this has been driven up in recent times by the rise in presenteeism. While more employers are aiming to tackle presenteeism in the workplace according to the latest findings by CIPD, there is still a lot to be done.

In this guide, we’ll look at what presenteeism actually is, why it needs to be tackled, how to spot it in your workplace, and how to reduce it.

The definition of presenteeism – what is it?

Simply put, presenteeism is when an employee comes to work while unwell, stressed, exhausted or experiencing personal issues. Unlike absenteeism, where employees are absent from work, presenteeism sees them physically at their workplace, but their productivity and performance are negatively affected. It’s often linked to fear of job loss, pressure to meet targets, a lack of job security, or a workplace culture that discourages taking time off.

Presenteeism is a major problem in the workplace as it can cause employees to become overwhelmed and unable to perform their job properly. Presenteeism can also occur when employees already feel overwhelmed by their workload, believing that taking time off will only create more stress and backlog.

Some employees may feel guilty for taking sick leave or worry about the perception of their commitment to the organisation. Unfortunately, by working when they are not at their best, many employees inadvertently prolong their recovery period, reduce their overall productivity, and potentially risk their long-term health.

Woman working with a headache is an example of presenteeism

The risks of presenteeism in the workplace

There are many reasons why employers may want to tackle a rise in presenteeism in the workplace. Some of the risks include:

Impact on employee health

Presenteeism can have a significant impact on employees’ physical health. When employees come to work while unwell, they risk delaying their recovery and potentially spreading contagious illnesses to their coworkers, causing a ripple effect of declining health throughout the organisation.

Not only that, but working under physical or emotional stress can lead to chronic health issues, such as heart disease, hypertension, or weakened immune systems.

Rise in mental health problems

Presenteeism contributes to increased stress, anxiety, and burnout. Employees who push through illness or personal issues without taking the necessary time to recover may experience a decline in their mental wellbeing.

This can lead to problems with concentration, decision-making, and creativity, which, in turn, impacts overall job performance. In severe cases, chronic stress can lead to more serious physical and mental health impacts.

Reduced productivity

Despite being physically present at work, employees suffering from presenteeism are not operating at their full capacity. Their focus, efficiency, and overall performance are compromised, resulting in decreased productivity. Presenteeism may lead to costly errors and delays which can have a knock-on effect on other employees and the organisation as a whole.

Presenteeism breeds more presenteeism

When employees witness others working through illness or personal issues, they may feel pressured to do the same. This perpetuates a cycle of presenteeism that can be difficult to break, as employees may become more reluctant to prioritise their health and well-being.

The hidden costs of presenteeism

The financial implications of presenteeism often go untracked, but they can be significant. Decreased productivity, higher long-term sick leave costs, and increased employee turnover are just some of the hidden costs that can affect an organisation with high presenteeism levels.

Additionally, presenteeism can lead to a decline in employee morale and job satisfaction, resulting in disengagement and a negative working environment. This, in turn, can damage a company’s reputation, making it more challenging to attract and retain top talent.

It’s important to note that presenteeism is not only a concern for the employees experiencing it but also for the wider organisation. The costs of presenteeism can far exceed those of absenteeism, making it crucial for businesses to address this issue proactively.

Man working when sick because of presenteeism

How to spot presenteeism in your workplace

The effects of presenteeism can be difficult to spot, as employees may attempt to hide them. However, there are a few signs that employers should look out for. These include:

  • A decline in performance or productivity across the organisation
  • An increase in mistakes or delays from team members
  • Employees finding it hard to focus or concentrate
  • Employees working through breaks or taking extra overtime to catch up on their workload
  • An increase in long-term sick leave (usually after long periods of stress)
  • A rise in contagious illnesses in the workplace
  • A reduction in the normal amount of short-term sick leave
  • Employees don’t feel comfortable discussing their wellbeing
  • Decreased team morale and engagement overall

You may also become aware of employees working through periods of illness which is the most obvious sign of presenteeism. Notice whether it’s just a small handful of team members of whether the issue seems more ingrained in the organisation.

9 top tips to reduce presenteeism

If you spot any of the signs of presenteeism at work, then it’s important to act quickly to ensure the wellbeing of your employees is prioritised. Here are some top tips to help reduce presenteeism in the workplace.

Flexible work

Offering flexible work arrangements, such as remote work options or adjustable hours, can help employees balance their personal and professional lives more effectively. This reduces the likelihood of presenteeism, as employees can better manage their health and personal responsibilities without sacrificing their work commitments.

With that being said, make sure that flexible work isn’t an excuse for more presenteeism! If your team works remotely, they may be more inclined to work through a period of illness. Flexible working works best when using a combination of these tips.

Encourage paid sick leave when it’s needed

Employees should feel comfortable taking sick leave without fear of reprisal. Companies should have clear policies regarding sick leave and communicate the importance of taking time off when it’s needed. As mentioned, this is particularly important when it comes to remote workers.

Look at your absence policy

Review your company’s absence policy to ensure it is fair, supportive, and encourages employees to prioritise their health. A well-designed policy should ensure that employees have the right support when they need to take leave and, again, for when they return to work.

You can learn more about creating an effective absence policy on the acas website.

Promote wellness programs

Implementing wellness initiatives, such as hosting stress-management workshops, or providing access to mental health resources, can help employees maintain their physical and mental health. These programs demonstrate a company’s commitment to employee wellbeing and can contribute to reducing presenteeism.

According to Deloitte, for every £1 spent on supporting their people’s mental health, on average employers get £5 back on their investment in reduced presenteeism, absenteeism and staff turnover.

Reduce presenteeism culture from the top

Management should lead by example and avoid engaging in presenteeism themselves. By setting healthy boundaries around work and taking time off when needed, managers can help create a culture where employees feel comfortable prioritising their health.

Use regular staff surveys to identify issues

Anonymous surveys can provide valuable insights into employee engagement, wellbeing and potential presenteeism. By regularly collecting feedback, companies can identify patterns and address concerns before they escalate.

Download our free questionnaire guide and template to start building your own employee survey.

Encourage open conversations around mental health and wellbeing

Creating a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their needs and concerns with line managers is crucial. Managers should be trained in mental health first aid and encouraged to maintain open lines of communication with their team members.

Download our Wellness Action Plan template to encourage those conversations.

Look for issues with workloads

Ensure that employees are not overwhelmed with unrealistic expectations or excessive workloads, which can contribute to presenteeism. Regularly review workloads, redistribute tasks as needed, and consider hiring additional staff members if necessary.

You may also want to use your staff surveys and Wellness Action Plan to find out if there are any underlying issues with workloads.

Keep communication limited to within working hours

Encourage employees to disconnect from work when they’re off the clock, allowing them to recover properly recharge and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Establish boundaries around work-related communication during non-working hours and respect employees’ personal time.


By implementing these strategies and fostering a healthy workforce and supportive workplace culture, organisations can significantly reduce presenteeism and its associated costs.

In turn, this leads to a healthier, happier, and more productive workforce, benefiting both employees and the business alike.

Additionally, companies should ensure that employees understand the importance of taking care of their wellbeing and have access to the necessary resources and support to do so.

Find out how we can help improve the wellbeing of your employees by downloading our brochure below or by booking a free 30-minute consultation.


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