Spotting Presenteeism In The Workplace

Presenteeism (attendance at work while sick) can have dramatic ramifications for businesses. While workers may feel as though they’re benefitting a business by continuing to show up for work even when feeling ill, presenteeism risks diminishing productivity and revenue. There is likely to be increased mistakes, exhaustion and long-term impacts upon employee health and mental wellbeing, not to mention widespread workplace epidemics. The phenomenon has become an accelerating trend across all industries in recent years, for several different reasons.

For example, many employees continue to work due to fear over loss of earnings or being overlooked for promotion, or the pressure to stay on top of increasing workloads. They might also feel that they have to be in work or else will face disciplinary actions. Others might be battling an ‘unseen’ illness such as anxiety, depression or a chronic condition, endeavouring to hide its effects from colleagues. In other cases, symptoms of presenteeism could be linked to instances of substance abuse. Employees may not realise that such actions have become an issue, or they wish to hide their dependencies from colleagues and loved ones. Businesses should conduct regular workplace drug testing, particularly if increased instances of presenteeism are experienced, or there are concerns about employees’ health, wellbeing or professionalism.

With this in mind, you may well begin to notice signs of presenteeism amongst your workforce:


Anyone attending work while ill, or under the influences of alcohol or illegal substances is likely to appear exhausted. Whether from the illness itself, or the pressure of concealing a problem. The employee might appear distant, forgetful, or easily agitated, or even fall asleep at work. Those that are tired risk making mistakes, which can be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of others working under particular circumstances.

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Slipping Standards and Mistakes

Illness can reduce a person’s attention to detail, make them forgetful, or diminish their pride in a job well done. The employee may become careless, make silly mistakes and misread situations – or misunderstand what has been asked of them. Employees that are ill or affected by substance abuse are often slow to react to slipping standards or may appear unphased by their behaviour.

Missed Lunch Breaks, and Longer Working Hours

Presenteeism may result in employees turning up to work late or leaving the workplace early. They may lack commitment and focus, or spend as little time as they can around their colleagues. Conversely, those living with chronic conditions, substance dependencies or ongoing illnesses may work through their lunches and skip breaks altogether, to keep on top of their workloads and divert attention away from their difficulties.

A Lack of Productivity

Have you noticed a drop in productivity or that an individual employee is struggling to keep up? Now maybe the time to broach the subject of presenteeism, and to ensure everyone is physically and mentally well. Loss of focus, exhaustion and excessive mistakes can negatively impact productivity, noticeably affecting business. Not only is this harmful for employees, but it risks wasted time and resources, missed deadlines and detriment to reputation.

Whatever an employee’s reasons, presenteeism can cost businesses time, money and reputation, and should be addressed at the earliest opportunity. Leadership is integral to overcoming presenteeism and employee wellbeing is vital if your business is to flourish. Invest in wellness, management training and workplace testing and encourage a culture of openness and personal responsibility to tackle presenteeism. You might be surprised by the results.

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