Tackling presenteeism within your business


Presenteeism has been an on-going issue within organisations for many years. The pandemic has only further increased this problem for a number of reasons. Presenteeism is the practice of staying at work longer than usual or being in work when you are ill to show that you work hard and are important to your employers. In the last decade presenteeism has tripled in the UK with more than four in five admitting to it. This is compared to just a quarter in 2010. The increase in presenteeism can result in a toxic workplace culture. Furthermore, it can be just as damaging as what absence and sick leave can be. Research from The Centre of Mental Health found that presenteeism arising from mental health surprisingly costs the UK economy more than what absenteeism does.


As well as turning up to work when ill, presenteeism now includes a number of other behaviours.


  • Arriving early and staying later
  • Working during annual leave
  • Responding to emails at all hours


Causes of presenteeism


  • The needs of others professionally, for example in the care or education sector
  • Manager behaviour. They have a sense of responsibility within the business. If they show presenteeism, this can put pressure on employees to act in the same way.
  • Concern for colleagues. Employees are likely to go into work when they are sick to avoid a colleague dealing with additional workload or pressure.
  • Job stress. Employees who feel unsure about their job security are more likely to turn up when they are ill and work longer hours to ‘prove’ themselves.
  • Company culture. Studies have found that having perfect attendance is seen as a sign of commitment to a job. Therefore, taking time off ill is seen as a sign of underperformance.
  • ‘Always on nature’ of the digital working environment.
  • Performance related targets and pay to meet.


The problem with this is that employees are likely to be not fully functioning and so are not able to fully perform their duties. Additionally, they are more likely to make mistakes on the job. Previously one in five have ignored their doctor’s advice to stay home when they are ill. Doing this can reduce productivity by over 30% and cost a company £4000 in lost business on average per employee.


Effects of presenteeism


  • Deteriorating (mental) health and wellbeing
  • Increased levels of stress
  • Reduction in productivity
  • Increased risk of mistakes
  • High employee turnover
  • Low performance


Mistaking this unhealthy attitude towards work for strong work ethic can be detrimental to your employees’ wellbeing. As an employer you should be aware of presenteeism amongst your workforce. Spotting presenteeism is crucial so that you are able to tackle it.


Warning signs of presenteeism


  • Noticeable level of mistakes
  • Poor quality of work and low levels of productivity
  • Lack of pride or care in work
  • Poor time keeping or excessive working hours
  • Working whilst obviously sick
  • Showing signs of exhaustion
  • Erratic behaviour, low mood, tearfulness
  • Reluctance to turn on their camera during video calls when working remotely
  • Turning up late to virtual meetings when working remotely.




The pandemic has highlighted that it is critical for businesses to tackle the widespread challenge of presenteeism. Especially with so many people working from home.

Despite the government guidance to work from home if possible, some employers are expecting their employees to continue to come into the workplace. There have been many warnings around social distancing and self-isolation, yet some still feel pressured to turn up to work. 54% of employees have felt pressured to return to work despite official warnings against this.

E-presenteeism (employees feeling they should be online and available as much as possible even if out of hours or when they are ill) has been encouraged during the pandemic. Four in five HR managers think long-term homeworking has unearthed e-presenteeism. Whilst it has been found that those working from home are generally more productive than those in the office, they are likely to be working 1.5 days a week extra on average. One main reason for this is that they find it easier to continue working to finish a task as they don’t have to think about commuting. It is also more difficult for remote workers to switch off at the end of the day, so continue to work late into the evening.


Ways to tackle presenteeism during the pandemic


  • Lead by example. If employers show a healthy work-life balance, it is likely to encourage employees to do the same.
  • Try to make sure that your employees are only ‘online’ during working hours.
  • Encourage them to log off at the end of the day as they normally would and on time.
  • Enable flexibility. Those who are able to adjust their working hours and environment are less likely to fall into the cycle of presenteeism.
  • Allow and encourage employees to take time off if they need it and send sick staff home
  • Monitor staff workload
  • Increase annual leave allowances to give time to recuperate
  • Review sick pay to enable staff to take time off when ill
  • Create a workplace culture discouraging employees coming into work when ill
  • Improve communication. It is harder to spot presenteeism and employees struggling whilst working remotely.
  • Do not force those back into the office – listen to what your employee would prefer


How can oneHR help


Task Management

As an employer you will be able to see the outstanding tasks that your employees have. This will help you to monitor their workload to ensure that they do not have too much set. You are also able to see how productive they are being – helping you to spot signs of presenteeism.


Employee Directory

oneHR allows you to see your employees’ diaries so you can keep track of their working day to make sure they are not working late or excessively.


If you have any further questions or queries about the content above or would like to request a demo for oneHR, please don’t hesitate to contact the oneHR team today.

E: contact@onehrsoftware.com

Twitter: @oneHR_

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