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The Negative Impact of Presenteeism on People and Productivity


We’ve all heard of absenteeism, but have you heard of presenteeism?

Presenteeism is when people feel pressure and anxiety to still go to work when not in the best of health – or overworking because of self-imposed pressure.

While presenteeism and absenteeism impact hugely on workplace productivity, it’s presenteeism that is the most significant of the two; with recent studies showing the economic cost of presenteeism being much more than that of absenteeism.

The pandemic, various lockdowns and working from home further blurred the lines between a home life and work for many, which in turn impacted on mental health and brought a whole new version of the issue with Digital Presenteeism. More and more people working from home are finding it harder to switch off and define clear boundaries between study, work and home lives.

Why Is Presenteeism a Problem?

If people feel that they’ve no choice but to come into work, school or college, productivity is not only lowered, but the unwell person could potentially be putting others at risk of catching the illness.

Furthermore, this isn’t just an internal issue. In customer facing roles clients may be upset if they are served by an unwell employee. Satisfaction is lowered and they may also get ill.

Where a day or two off work or study might allow the worst of an illness to subside before returning far more effective; taking it into work or study places can mean tens or hundreds of people may all end up underperforming.

Study grades, profits, morale, wellbeing – they all get impacted.

Impacts of Presenteeism:

  • Lowering of physical and/or mental health of employees

  • Risk to customers, clients or patients due to infection, injury or errors

  • Longer lasting illness effects in the work or study place

  • Impaired performance causing errors that take time and money to fix

  • Culture of presenteeism can be created

What can we do to combat this culture of students and employees continuing to work and study as a performative measure, despite having reduced productivity levels or negative consequences?

How to Combat Your Own Presenteeism

Is it policy that you should be at coming in when ill? – The answer to this should be a resounding NO.

  • Would you want others to do what you’re doing? – You’re sneezing and coughing germs over others and possibly giving them what you have. Is that fair?

  • Can you delegate or let someone else take your workload? – We hope you have support around you for at least a couple of days. Worst case scenario, can it be delayed?

  • Is it really as important to be present as you are thinking it is? – It could be that the pressure you are putting yourself under is building the task up to more than it is.

  • Communicate to management or tutors/teachers that you are unwell/stressed – explain how bad you feel and that you don’t want to make everyone else ill. Then request an extension.

  • Worst case scenario – can you put your out of office on and complete it at home?

Steps to Stop Presenteeism in the Work and Education

  • Lead by example – make sure management displaying toxic presenteeism traits are not being the first in and last out, or ‘soldiering on’ when they should be recuperating.

  • Recognise The Signs. – educate your managers so they can see the first signs of presenteeism early before it becomes a part of your company’s culture.

  • Encourage people to take time off – people get sick; what matters is how you deal with it. Letting people know sick employees should stay home and recuperate helps reduce presenteeism.

  • Change Your Working Hours – reducing long hours makes employees more efficient, increases engagement, helps wellbeing and reduces burnout. Make it policy to leave by a certain time.

  • Improved Wellbeing Programme – promote healthy living, exercise and mental health support can improve your workforce’s welfare and state of mind, preventing sickness and reduce presenteeism.

  • Communication – healthy and open dialogue about mental health, wellbeing, self-care, stress and anxiety can all help reduce the drivers of presenteeism by eliminating the root of the problem.

And finally…

PoetsIN have a range of resources available for free. They’re easy to download and will help with all things mental wellbeing. It is as important to invest time in our mental health as well as our physical health. Visit: to get your copies.

Author: Paul Chambers, PoetsIN

Using wellbeing solutions steeped in innovative technology, Govox provides data and insights that helps leaders in schools , sports clubs and the workplace spot at-risk individuals and give much-needed support.


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