The doctor is in (Part 3)

productivity presenteeism sick

Am I the only one who hadn’t heard of Presenteeism?

I recently came across a discussion about the financial loss and wider mental health issues of ‘Presenteeism’1.  Although I have seen, and possibly engaged in, a bit of Presenteeism I didn’t know it had a name – until now.

In its simplest form, Presenteeism can be defined as: “The act of attending work while sick.”2

But this definition can be extended to include any instance where an employee is at work, but due to physical or emotional issues is distracted to the point of reduced productivity.3

According to a Gallup study on the State of the Global Workplace (2011-2012), 63% of employees worldwide are ‘not engaged’, meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest effort in organisational goals or outcomes. 24% are ‘actively disengaged’ – in other words, unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to coworkers.

The study concludes: “In rough numbers, this translates into 900 million not engaged and 340 million actively disengaged workers around the globe.”4

The main contributors to presenteeism include:

  • employees not having sick leave available and not being able to afford to take unpaid time off
  • high workload and looming deadlines
  • fear of losing your job or being given less hours if working casually
  • even a love and devotion to your job and workmates can cause people to come into work when perhaps they should have stayed home in bed.

Like many health and safety issues, presenteeism can be traced to a particular workplace culture, where the organisation is perceived (rightly or wrongly) to value production over personnel.

So what can we do about presenteeism?

The first step is to make it clear that your company expects sick employees to stay home and recover. Manage employees’ workloads and make sure everyone knows there is a backup plan in place for when employees are away – no one is so indispensable that their health should be adversely affected.

Other actions could include the following:

  • promote positive work life balance and wellbeing programs including exercise, nutrition, counselling, even financial management
  • change your absentee policy to offer flexible arrangements (e.g. work from home, make up time) for unexpected absences (sick child, etc).
  • raise awareness of common mental and physical health issues to help reduce the stigma
  • recognise the symptoms of stressed and disengaged employees and encourage open and supportive conversations with them.


  1. Burroughs, D, 2015, Heads Up, Do you really have a strategic approach to workplace mental health?
  2. Crabtree, S, Gallup, Worldwide, 13% of Employees Are Engaged at Work,
  3. McCurry, D, 2016, Five Ways to Reduce Presenteeism in the Workplace,
  4. Reyes, S, 2014, Workplace Tribes, Presenteeism: the One Thing Worse than
  5. Wikipedia, Presenteeism,