Why You Should Care About Presenteeism


We all need a little R&R time every once in a while, but when it becomes a hard habit to call in sick, constantly be late to work, or take hours of paid breaks , that’s just plain WRONG! However, if you really are sick or unwell, you’d better stay home or you might just end up hindering your company’s productivity. Even more than if you didn’t show up at all. That’s called presenteeism. Here’s everything you need to know about it.

The (not-so-obvious) Difference Between Absenteeism and Presenteeism

Absenteeism occurs when employees don’t show up for work. Needless to say, it can negatively impact productivity, and it’s a red flag for employee disengagement. Not to mention the fact that the company’s bottom line is likely being affected.

In Canada only, absenteeism costs companies $16.6 billion in 2012. What’s more, the average rate of absenteeism climbed from 8.8 days for a full-time worker in 2014, to 9.6 days in 2017.

What is less studied however is the topic of “presenteeism”, which costs businesses 10 times more than absenteeism, according to a recent study.

Even if it doesn’t ring a bell, you’ve probably been guilty of it at least once in your professional life. Presenteeism refers to lost productivity and performance due to employees showing up at work when they’re sick, exhausted, or even too distracted by their personal issues to focus on their tasks.

Oh, and if you’re only showing up at work to receive your paycheck and your job “is making you sick”, so to speak, that’s also a case of presenteeism. Just in case you were wondering…

Presenteeism and Disengagement

Unsurprisingly, presenteeism does not make a great example of employee engagement. It’s quite logical: when you’re sick or preoccupied, you can have a hard time concentrating. Everything seems insurmountable, whether it’s just focusing on a less interesting task that’s on your plate, meeting new deadlines, or dealing with an unpleasant customer. 

The rest comes naturally. You start complaining a lot about your job to your coworkers who, frankly, between dealing with their mortgages and their kids starting their adolescence crises, could use some rest, too. Your presenteeism ends up affecting everyone else’s morale and engagement. And in the end, your company and its people are the ones who pay the cost.

The Solutions

The good news is that presenteeism is not a fatality. Just like employee disengagement, companies and individuals can do something about it. First of all, your organization must put employee mental health on its “top priorities” list.

If you witness employees or colleagues having a difficult time in their personal life, don’t be afraid to reach out to them and offer your support. Knowing that managers and peers sympathize and understand when a particular employer is not “feeling it” does wonders for employee morale.

Another option that forward-thinking companies can implement is a wellness program. Employees who can release their stress through meditation sessions, physical exercise, and other mental health support services, generally tend to focus better. It’s the way our brains work: if you focus on one single activity for hours, your mind will stop performing optimally at some point. The same goes when dealing with presenteeism: trying to work while thinking about your troubles is simply exhausting and ultimately counter-productive. Participating in wellness activities helps you refresh your thoughts and get back to work for real.

Sometimes we fail at finding a solution to a problem because we misunderstand its origin. When it comes to presenteeism, it’s essential to pay attention to the warning signs listed above.

Don’t act like a “presentee-ist” with presenteeism.