Although absenteeism is a persistent problem for business, on the opposite end of the scale is the issue of presenteeism.

This post explores the concept of presenteeism, its causes, how it affects businesses and what you can do about it.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism refers to instances when employees come into work despite feeling unwell or being incapacitated in some way. This includes sickness, injury, and mental health struggles. 

eAn example of short-term presenteeism is when an employee continues to come into work despite picking up a bug that’s going around. Alternatively, you have longer-term presenteeism which include staff members suffering from persistent mental health issues and still attempting to function as normal.  

 What are the causes of presenteeism?

Presenteeism can be caused by several things, which is one of the reasons it’s a difficult issue for companies to solve. These causes include:

  • Financial circumstances: If the employee is in particular need of money. This mainly applies if their employer doesn’t have a scheme that pays them for sick days.
  • Perceived job security: How secure the employee is in their position and if they’re wary of the consequences of being absent. This could be caused by the company culture (if it’s competitive or results-driven, or how their colleagues have been treated when they’ve called in sick) or how simply the employee views the situation. 
  • Team commitment: How loyal a person feels towards their teammates and the company as a whole. 
  • A poor work-life balance: If the employee is a workaholic, or if they are in the habit of leaving the bulk of a project until close to its deadline – and happen to fall ill around it. 
  • Personality: Some people pride themselves on ‘never getting sick’ or insist of pushing through illnesses. Similarly, if some employees may suffer from mental health issues and don’t wish to talk about them – preferring to press on instead. 
  • Cultural factors: The employee’s background and past experiences will shape their attitude to work, their sense of duty and commitment, etc., which results can result in them failing to take the necessary care of themselves. 

What are the effects of presenteeism?

Now we’ve looked at the causes of presenteeism, let’s briefly explore some of its consequences.  

Slows down recovery

Coming into work when still ill is likely to slow down a person’s recovery, as it’d be far better for them to stay home and recuperate. 


When one of your employees forces themselves to work – and exert themselves mentally and physically – it could make their health even worse. If they insist on pressing on long enough, it could result in burnout that causes them to take significant time off work

Make colleagues sick

As well as worsening their own condition, the sick person can transmit whatever illness they have to their co-workers. Now your company is faced with a situation where an illness that affected one member of staff is working its way through your entire workforce and is susceptible to more unplanned absences. Not to mention the potential for taking it with them and passing it onto their family.

People not being at their best

When someone is ill, they’re just not going to be at their best. They’re going to find it harder to concentrate, recall information, and it’s going to take longer to complete their work. Not only are they going to end up physically and mentally drained but not being able to perform at their usual level is bound to be frustrating.

Worse still, this dip in quality could affect some of their colleagues too. For a start, some will be conscious for contracting whatever illness the sick employee has which will distract them from their work. 

What can you do about presenteeism? 

Encourage people to stay home

Create a company culture in which staff feel comfortable calling in sick when they have to. If they insist on coming in, you could suggest they work remotely instead. 

Tell people to go home

Similarly, if an employee is visibly ill, talk to them and don’t be afraid to suggest they go home. If they say that they’re ok, still insist they go home and ask that they call you in the morning to report how they’re feeling.

Lead by example

Management need to provide an example for the rest of the workforce and stay home when they’re feeling sick. The staff that report to them will feel more comfortable doing the same when they fall ill. 

Encourage people to talk about their mental health

Engender an environment where your employees can talk about their mental health. The key word here is can, as they’re not obliged to talk about it but can do so if they choose. 

Ideally, you want your employees to know that your company will empathise with them, rather than hold their mental health struggles against them. They also need to be assured that your conversations with them will be confidential

In time, employees who struggle with their mental health will feel more comfortable taking the necessary time off when they’re feeling particularly stressed or overwhelmed.

Review your absence policy

A potential side effect of trying to reduce absenteeism is increasing your company’s rate of presenteeism. To help solve this, examine your absence policy and see if anything within it could be causing presenteeism. Better still, ask your staff when they feel compelled to come into work when they’re sick and why. With that information, you can make changes that allow staff to feel though they take time off when they’re sick.