We all know the high cost of absenteeism, but the cost of presenteeism is all too often ignored, even though the cost to business is much greater.

What is presenteeism?

It’s when staff turn up for work but are unable to perform effectively and productively due to poor wellbeing or ill health.

But at least they’re turning up, right?  Surely that’s better than if they don’t show up at all?

The solution to presenteeism is obviously not that those currently working below par due to wellbeing and health issues should stay at home instead.  But simply ignoring the issue on the grounds that at least people are at their desks means that you’re also ignoring the cost to your business of their underperformance and reduced productivity.

What are the costs to business?

There is a widespread consensus amongst researchers (Johns 2009) that  overall cost to business of presenteeism dwarfs that of absenteeism.  A report published in April 2010 by health provider Axa PPP and The Work Foundation found that presenteeism accounts for one-and-a-half times as much lost working time, with an annual price-tag for business of £19.5bn

The Sainsbury Centre of Mental Health (2007) found that presenteeism cost an average of £600 per employee per year, but that may be a huge underestimate.  Personnel Today recently reported on research which found that low levels of psychological wellbeing can cost companies around £46 a week per employee in lost productivity, or £2,500 per person every year (1).

The ultimate price could be your business itself.  Presenteeism is linked to employee disengagement – where your staff just don’t really care that much about your business anymore – and if that sets in, widespread presenteeism can become a chronic but almost invisible problem:  the silent killer undermining your business.  The cost to UK businesses of staff disengagement is estimated to be £44bn every year (IPA 2008).

What you can do about it

If encouraging those who are ‘present’ to be absent instead isn’t the solution – and clearly it isn’t – then what is?  The answer lies in tackling the underlying causes of presenteeism.

Physical ill health combined with fears over job security can lead to employees coming into work when not really fit, but a more insidious factor underlying presenteeism is workplace stress and the associated decline in emotional and mental wellbeing.

The Work Foundation / Axa PPP report recommended that businesses should prioritise the capability of line managers to deal with work-related stress, including any managerial and organisational causes of reduced psychological wellbeing and stress.

Tackling organisational stress involves identifying hot-spots and stress risk-factors related to how employees’ work is organised; ensuring managers know how to manage in a way which reduces rather increases stress, and helping employees to manage themselves more effectively, deal with acute stress and become more resilient.

Would you like to learn how to do this effectively in your organisation?

Find out more about my training and consultancy services which can help you to reap the rewards of tackling stress and presenteeism in your organisation.



(1) Personnel Today:  Making the most of employee wellbeing initiatives 12 Dec 2011 http://www.personneltoday.com/articles/2011/12/12/58121/making-the-most-of-employee-wellbeing-initiatives.html