Presenteeism in the workplace: 9 tips to reduce it

Last updated:
May 24, 2022
May 27, 2022
min read
Rebecca Anderson
Recruitee
presenteeism in the workplace
Table of contents

Presenteeism has become a very common phenomenon in recent years, with employees feeling like they still need to work even when their productivity is extremely low. Sometimes, these employees do so not out of their will but due to pressure from the management. 

Although this presenteeism seems like a good idea since people don't miss work, it eventually affects the employee and the company negatively in the long run. Showing up at work while sick or overly tired costs companies across the U.S millions of dollars every year. 

As an HR manager, it can be difficult to identify presenteeism in the workplace. After all, people are showing up and are glued to their computers. This article will explain what presenteeism is, its effects, and how to reduce it, among other details. 

What is presenteeism in the workplace?

Presenteeism in the workplace is the situation where employees report to work despite feeling tired or sick, which considerably affects their productivity. According to PubMed.gov, presenteeism costs companies across the U.S $150 Billion every year. 

Several factors contribute to presenteeism. David Bitton, Co-founder & CMO of DoorLoop, explains what might cause presenteeism:

Presenteeism is frequently driven by excessive workloads, tight deadlines, or a shortage of manpower. These factors cause presenteeism because employees must achieve unreasonable targets and are concerned that taking necessary days off may overburden their coworkers.

Some other common factors are:

  • Unrealistic expectations by the employer
  • Job insecurity
  • A culture that perceives being sick as socially unacceptable

In extreme situations, presenteeism can be a result of discrimination or harassment in the workplace

According to Institute for Employment Studies report, presenteeism is mostly common in:

  • Older workers
  • People suffering from insomnia
  • People with mental-health related issues such as depression
  • People who live unhealthy lifestyles such as eating unhealthy diets or those who don't exercise regularly

As an HR professional, you can learn how to identify presenteeism in the workplace. This will help you take the necessary steps. Some of the signs that could be an indication that a worker is suffering from this phenomenon include:

  • A reduction in performance in an employee who used to perform exemplary
  • Reporting to work late and leaving earlier
  • Looking sickly and tired
  • Working longer hours than usual

The rise of presenteeism with WFH and hybrid environments

According to research by Frontiers in Psychology, employees working from home are more affected by presenteeism than those who work from the office. This phenomenon has even been dubbed e-presenteeism due to its digital nature. 

People working from home or in a hybrid environment may feel like working when sick is much easier at home than when in the office and fail to see the need to take sick leave.

These employees may also juggle between work and other responsibilities, leaving them so tired and working at odd hours, which greatly affects their productivity. 

Employees who have recently shifted from working on-site to working remotely are greatly affected by presenteeism since they are still trying to get used to the new culture.

Employees who don't have a dedicated office space at home are also much affected since they might find it hard to allocate distinct hours to work and also cater to their other responsibilities. 

This kind of presenteeism is even harder for employers and HR managers to spot since they are far away from the employees. They can't know when the employees work while sick or excessively tired. 

However, you can help your remote team avoid presenteeism by setting clear and realistic expectations and maintaining regular communication with them. Checking their well-being and encouraging them to take some time off can be helpful too. 

Effects of presenteeism in the workplace

It causes reduced productivity

At first, presenteeism might look like dedication. When your employee still reports when sick or work for long hours, you might confuse that for commitment to their jobs and focus on accomplishing. 

However, an unwell employee cannot perform to their full potential. Similarly, an employee working for long hours and not taking sufficient breaks may suffer from burnout, which significantly reduces their productivity. They are also more likely to make mistakes, which can cost you a lot as a company. 

It can create employee absence

If an employee with an infectious illness such as flu and cold still reports to work, they may infect other employees with the illness, creating absenteeism and reduced productivity in general.

Employees may take longer to recover

If an employee still goes to work when sick, they may take very long to recover, which means their productivity will be down for the days they will be sick. This is opposed to when an employee takes some time off to seek treatment and recover while resting.

How to reduce presenteeism in the workplace

As an employer or HR professional, there are some things you can do to reduce presenteeism in the workplace. These include:

Offer flexible working hours

Most organizations use the 9-5 job schedule. Although these are the standard working hours, they may cause a lot of inconveniences to some employees. For example, an employee who is expected to report to work by nine may have other responsibilities that require them to be elsewhere at that hour, such as dropping kids to school.

You can make the work of such an employee easier by allowing them to report an hour later so that they can take care of other responsibilities first. They can then leave work an hour later after the set leaving time to compensate for the lost hour in the morning. 

The goal here is to offer flexible working hours to allow employees to take care of their personal needs. You will have saved them from working for long hours just because they took a break to attend to something personal. 

Give employees some time off

Give employees some time off. Taking some time off helps them relax their mind and rejuvenate. Ensure that there will be no pay cuts when they are not working. If employees know that they will not get paid when they take time off, they might prefer working without a break, promoting presenteeism. 

Promote wellness

Promoting wellness in your organization is one of the most effective ways of reducing presenteeism. You can do this by introducing employee well-being activities

Wellness programs help employees remain fit, preventing many health conditions that may reduce their productivity. Additionally, it promotes mental well-being preventing conditions like stress and depression. These programs also help employees feel appreciated, increasing their morale.

Related reading: check out our guide on employee well-being here

Adopt a presenteeism-free culture

Adopting a presenteeism-free culture helps eliminate this phenomenon from the senior-most to the junior employees. Start by addressing presenteeism from the top management levels. The senior managers should take sick leaves and time off from work and set an example for the other employees. 

Encourage open communication

Tracy Beverdige, HR Director at Personnel Checks, explains that companies should:

provide managers with training to help them identify and manage workers who are potentially anxious and are working extra hours because they feel unsafe in their role.

By encouraging open communication in the workplace and training managers, employees can easily open up about the issues affecting them rather than keeping quiet and suffering in silence. Additionally, they will find it easy to ask for sick leave whenever they are sick to recover first and then report back to work. Also, the employees can communicate when they feel like they are working excessively, which can help you take the necessary steps to curb the problem. 

Conduct regular staff surveys

Conducting regular staff surveys can help you get a lot of information about your employees and know when they suffer from presenteeism. The information you get from these surveys can guide you on steps to take to promote their well-being and productivity. 

Give enough sick leave

Ensure you provide enough sick leave for the employees. An employee who knows that they will not get paid if they take sick leave or have to be answerable for not reporting to work will show up at work even when they are sick. When you provide sick leave, they can feel comfortable staying at home as they recover, then report to work after they feel better and be more productive. 

Provide insurance

By providing health insurance, you help your employees get medical attention when they feel unwell. They will not suffer in silence due to a lack of funds to take care of their medical bills. 

Conclusion

Presentism has become very rampant in today's world. This phenomenon negatively impacts employees and also the organizations they work for. As an employer or HR professional, it's your duty to eliminate presentism in the workplace by adopting measures such as providing paid sick leaves and encouraging employees to take some time off and rejuvenate. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is presenteeism?

A: Presenteeism is the phenomenon where employees report to work when feeling unwell or overly tired. 

Q: What is the difference between absenteeism and presenteeism?

A: Absenteeism and presenteeism are two different things. In absenteeism, workers don't report to work. They miss working days due to illness, have an emergency, or another engagement they need to attend to. In presenteeism, workers show up even when their productivity is down due to illness or extreme tiredness. 

Q: What are the main causes for presenteeism in the workplace?

A: The main causes of presenteeism in the workplace include:

  • Poor management systems which force workers to handle a lot of work within a very short period.
  • A poor company culture that does not promote employees taking paid sick days or leave. 
  • Mental health issues that affect the general well-being of an employee and cause conditions such as depression and insomnia. 

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