Last updated: October 24, 2017

What Does Presenteeism Mean?

Presenteeism refers to the problem of employees not functioning at their best capacity while at work due to illness or other medical conditions. Presenteeism is related to absenteeism—an employee not showing up for work—as a factor that reduces productivity in the workplace. Unlike absenteeism, employee presenteeism is often difficult to spot, as the affected employee may not show outward signs of medical affliction.

According to many estimates, presenteeism results in greater costs due to lost productivity compared to absenteeism. Presenteeism has been found to be higher in workplaces that do not emphasize occupational health, and it is associated with higher levels of workplace health issues.

Safeopedia Explains Presenteeism

Presenteeism is a relatively new area of study, and as such, general awareness of it is low. However, it is known that presenteeism is associated with high levels of workplace stress and an expectation that employees should work through illnesses and other instances of ill health. Presenteeism can also be caused by exposure to workplace hazards. For instance, the health effects of occupational lead exposure have been associated with presenteeism.

The estimated costs of presenteeism vary. One study across the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom found that the productivity cost of employees working with ill health due to sickness or other medical conditions is 10 times greater than the productivity cost of absentee employees.

Many employers do not take steps to combat presenteeism, such as discouraging employees from coming to work when ill. Research by the UK human resources professional association called the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)—the oldest HR association in the world—has found that just under half of the employers surveyed prioritized operational demands above employee well-being. The same research found a year-over-year increase in presenteeism each year from 2011 to 2015. Further, the CIPD’s research indicates that companies that allow or encourage presenteeism culture suffer higher levels of stress-related absence and mental health issues. According to the UK Health and Safety Executive, these issues accounted for 39 percent of all work absences from 2013 to 2014. As such, productivity costs related to presenteeism are due both to reduced productivity from employees at work and reduced productivity due to absenteeism.




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