‘Presenteeism’ and how to manage it

Do you have some employees who, no matter how sick they are, turn up to work?

This is known as presenteeism and can be just as disruptive to a business as abseenteism.

What’s the problem?

If an employee is sick, you will obviously be concerned for their well-being and health and wondering whether by working in their current condition, they will delay their recovery causing a longer absence. There will also be worries about how their illness will affect their performance and productivity. Slips in concentration or judgment can mean accidents can occur, especially if they are undertaking a dangerous role or operating machinery.

The big problem with presenteeism is that if the employee has a contagious illness, such as the flu or chicken pox, there is a significant risk that the employee’s illness will spread to everyone else, causing major headaches for the business.

Why does it happen?  

There are multiple reasons why people decide to go into work although they are sick including:

  • Job security
  • Financial penalties
  • Heavy workload
  • Feeling that they are letting managers or colleagues down
  • Company culture or attendance policy
  • Fear of negative views by others

What can employers do?

Unfortunately, we all get sick occasionally. Employers obviously want their staff to have excellent attendance, but you should encourage people not to come into work until they are recovered and can work productively. If they can work but they are suffering from a contagious illness, you could consider whether it is appropriate for them to work from home.

It may be time to review your sickness absence policy. Having a hard-line and aggressive policy may be harming those who are genuinely sick. If faced with an epidemic of presenteeism, you need to look at the reasons why your staff are coming in and whether your policy is effectively punishing them by not being flexible or not paying them in full when they are sick.

You may also need to see whether there is a particularly negative perception amongst managers and employees, for example do people think that the odd absence will cast doubts on their commitment or work ethic or that they will be passed over for promotion?

It is also important to lead by example – if your managers are coming into work sick, how can you expect everyone else not to? Make sure that all levels of management are laying down the appropriate standards, following them and supporting their implementation.

Lastly, modern workplaces should build cultures based on health and well-being. Simple and inexpensive initiatives can be introduced, for example, having a fruit bowl, offering discounted gym or exercise classes, encouraging people to take time away from their desk to eat at lunchtime, etc.

If you are facing a high level of absenteeism or presenteeism, contact your Employment Law Adviser for more guidance and support.

Director of Legal Services

James Tamm

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