Danielle Asano
over 3 years ago by Sarah Graham

Absenteeism vs. Presenteeism – which is worse?

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Did you know that workplace absences costs UK businesses an estimated £29 billion a year? As you may have noticed January – and winter in general is notorious for unauthorised employee absences. Research by Britain’s Healthiest Workplace found that employers are losing 27.5 days of productive work from each employee.

The average absence for each employee lasts for 6.6 days, and can take its toll. Absenteeism and sickness has many implications to a business such as work not getting done, the team becoming over-worked under the extra pressure and often struggling to maintain the same levels of productivity.

So, what’s the alternative?

Many businesses can’t afford for staff to go off sick, but what about the staff who choose to work while they are ill? Well, surprisingly presenteeism is almost as bad as absenteeism. Presenteeism is when an employee comes in to work despite being too ill to be productive. Presenteeism is common in high-pressure workplaces where employees are stressed and feel obligated to come in.

Not only does presenteeism risk making other staff members ill and the problem becoming an ongoing cycle but it has been found to have consequences further down the line. 64% of staff who attended work ill reported an increase in stress-related absences later on as opposed to 35% who hadn’t. What’s more, 3 in 10 organisations reported an increase in the last year.


So, since both absenteeism and presenteeism are both a problem for the staff and business, what can we do? Well, we looked at the most common reasons for absenteeism which are:

  • minor illness;
  • stress;
  • musculoskeletal disorders;
  • recurring medical conditions;
  • back pain.

Knowing that these are the most common reasons for staff absence, we have provided some tips for you to implement in your workplace.

  • Review the environment

Our work environment is vital to our well-being. For instance, 34% of employees are regularly suffering from backache, 25% suffer neck ache and 23% suffer headaches as a direct result of how they are working.

Given that so much time is spent at work, even the slightest changes to your chair and monitor will be beneficial. Allergies can be another issue at work, to avoid triggering or aggravating allergies companies should consider the fabrics used on furniture in the office. Try to use low- or non-toxic paints, and bring in plants to counteract any pollutants that do exist.

  • Promote the importance of healthy lifestyle

A strong immune system can defend against potential illnesses and dragging energy levels.

How can you encourage wellness in the workplace? There are a number of low cost alternatives which can encourage new healthy habits. Why not provide fresh fruit or healthy snacks such as granola in the kitchen or break room.

It’s no secret physical activity is good for physical and mental health. Why not encourage employees to get active by prompting them to use the stairs or introducing walking challenges. Fitness programmes can be made fun by including an element of competition, and a reward can encourage participation. Introduce a bike to work scheme or suggesting that staff get off the bus a stop earlier are also great fitness suggestions.

  • stress relief

Presenteeism is also much more likely to happen when workloads are piled high or if an employee feels their job security is threatened, so it is important to find ways to manage their stresses. Try to encourage open communication about stress and mental health-related topics amongst your employees in company communications and staff reviews to ensure they receive the support they need.

It is also worth reviewing management policies as workplaces which are employee focused are known to improve staff engagement, morale and increase productivity. Options such as flexible working, incentive schemes and duvet days help very well with absenteeism.

Encouraging workplace recognition can also help reduce stress. Employees who feel they have a positive and personal rapport with their management are more likely to be engaged, and they would feel appreciated when they or their work gets noticed. Make a point of recognising the efforts of your team members and appreciate their achievements.

Given the impact stress has on mental health, as an employer it is your duty to look after staff. Therefore, it is important that you are aware of signs of mental ill health. These include mood swings, uncharacteristic and erratic behaviour, low employee engagement and poor productivity. If you are supporting staff with mental health issues an employee assistance programme may be useful. Other resources such as such a confidential telephone or in person counselling should be available. For more information click here.

For examples of more easy tips to help will all aspects of employee health, click here.