8th October 2020

The Other Side to Presenteeism

6th August, 2019

Kevin Rogers

There is a growing awareness of the negative impact presenteeism can have on the wellbeing of an individual, the wider team, and on an organisation.

This article looks at the reasons why employees are still continuing to arrive at work when they’re ill, and what companies can change internally to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Presenteeism is essentially being at work when you’re not supposed to be, due to illness such as a having a bug, cold or flu.

It’s one of the most talked about topics of workplace health and wellbeing currently, and it’s no surprise, as it can have consequences for employee motivation, productivity, and therefore, profitability.  

A survey by the CIPD1 found that presenteeism had more than tripled since 2010 with 86% of over 1000 respondents reporting that they had observed presenteeism in their organisations over the last 12 months.

Shockingly, only 25% of these organisations have taken steps to discourage it. But what is it that stops employees from taking the much- needed time to get themselves better, and back to performing at their very best?


In many organisations, smaller teams are a common reason why people don’t take time off when they need to. There is a need to consider other people’s holidays and sicknesses, and the lack of resource to help spread the workload.

Add in the extra pressure of deadlines and urgent tasks, and having time off sick can feel to employees as though it’s not an option.

From an employer’s perspective, it may not be ideal to be missing an employee for a day or two. However, this is much better than having work produced that’s below par, having illnesses spread throughout the workplace (and therefore more potential staff becoming ill), and the individual taking much longer to recover.

Sometimes, a cold can be extremely contagious but not warrant time off work. In cases like this, it’s easier to encourage working from home to avoid the spreading of bugs, but only if they do feel up to working at all.

Where jobs can’t be done from home or if employees aren’t well enough to work at all, simply promoting an honest discussion and an open environment can be hugely beneficial to make it easier for them to feel comfortable taking time off to get better, and it also encourages others to do the same – subsequently reducing presenteeism on a bigger scale.

Attending GP appointments to get themselves better can be also be difficult for employees, due to the opening hours, increasing waiting times, and additional time off needed to attend.

But, there are a range of solutions organisations can consider introducing which will aide this problem. For example, our Policyholders have access to our Paycare GP 24/7 app, making it much more convenient for staff to book appointments and have consultations with qualified and practicing GPs over the phone or via video conferencing, with statistics showing that the majority of these appointments are made outside of traditional GP opening hours, including weekends.

Expectations & Generations

Reportedly, two-thirds of workers consider hard workers to be those who come to work and struggle through it even if they’re not feeling 100%2. It can often come down to a generational mindset stemming back to the belief that having a day off can be seen as a weakness by employers and their dependents.  

Employees should be informed of the risks that presenteeism poses to both their colleagues and themselves if they continue to deny themselves time to recover. Nip in the bud the belief that going to work sick proves a strong work ethic, and that returning to work feeling able to perform to their best is much more effective for the team and organisation in the grand scheme of things.

Policies & Money

Unfortunately, money has a significant part to play in why some employees come into work sick. It is fact that some people are more prone to illnesses than others, such as parents with school-aged children who pick up bugs regularly. As a result, if an employee has used up all their sick pay entitlement, chances are they simply cannot afford to have the time off.

In addition to this, many companies implement a strict disciplinary procedure once an employee has taken too much time off sick, and so with the worry of ‘punishment’, coming to work unwell is often the lesser of two evils. Consider reviewing company procedures and make changes where possible to adopt a more forgiving and flexible approach. As mentioned earlier, if it is a possibility, introduce flexible working if they’re well enough to work but not well enough to be physically at work. If not, and you are given adequate time to do so, look at swapping shifts around. If neither is possible, then encourage unwell employees to stay home and don’t put pressure on them to work. The more flexible you are, the happier your staff will be.


As one of the top three reasons for both long-term and short-term absence, the cost of stress to the economy totalled almost £6.5bn last year in Britain3. Whilst stress is often caused by a combination of things, workload and workplace can be one of the biggest factors.

Exacerbating this problem is that taking time off due to stress can in fact cause more stress for employees already worried about money, supporting their dependents, perceptions of their work ethic and workload. With a staggering 44% of people4 reportedly suffering with stress-related illness, prevention is absolutely better than cure.

Ensure your employees know how valued they are and feel able to approach management about sensitive subjects. Regularly meet with them to catch up on their workload so that they are given the chance to air any concerns about pressures they may be facing. Most importantly, make sure employees are taking regular breaks in a relaxed environment and that they take their full holiday entitlement.


It is a common assumption for employees to feel that they’re not a valued part of the team, and that their own health and wellbeing isn’t as important to organisations than their work. Perceptions around sickness absence needs to change, and until both employees and employers are able to identify and understand the possible reasons why it happens in terms of attitude and internal culture, presenteeism will continue to prevail.

In conclusion, it’s vital for organisations to understand and have an awareness of what role they play in promoting – indirectly – presenteeism in the workplace. For example, do they have a support network where they can access advice and guidance when they need it, such as an Employee Assistance Programme? Or if they need to see a GP about their problems, is the workplace flexible for them to do so?

There are many solutions available which can easily and cost-effectively be introduced to the workplace, such as GP 24/7 apps where staff can speak to a qualified and practising GP outside of the traditional opening hours. This not only helps them to fit their jobs around their personal health issues and seek help when they need it, but it encourages a culture where health and wellbeing is seen as a priority, as well as a positive benefit to enhance recruitment and retention.”


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Kevin Rogers

Kevin Rogers is CEO of Health Cash Plan provider, Paycare, which helps businesses recognise, reward and retain their employees, and provides preventative support covering their physical, mental and financial health and wellbeing needs. As a qualified accountant and Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, Kevin began his career with Tarmac PLC followed by senior financial roles at SMEs and multinational organisations within the manufacturing, automotive and construction sectors. For more information about Paycare, its range of corporate plans and how they benefit both businesses and employees, please visit or call 01902 371000.

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