Presenteeism: How Employee Commitment Is Not Always Good

Presenteeism: How Employee Commitment Is Not Always Good

Commitment is usually considered to be a positive thing, something every employer loves to see from their employees. But employee commitment is not always good news. Presenteeism is recognised as having a damaging influence on productivity and workplace wellbeing.

Presenteeism is when staff arrive for work even though they are ill. It’s usually motivated by a desire to impress the boss, but despite the good intentions, studies show that an employee that turns up for work while sick can impact negatively on the workplace.

According to a 2016 report published by Global Corporate Challenge (GCC), presenteeism is more damaging to enterprises than absenteeism, causing as much as 10 times the loss in productivity than staying at home and costing a staggering USD $1.5 trillion. The report also found that respondents took an average of just 4 days per year off due to illness, but went to work while sick and underperformed an average of 57.5 days each. That period translates to almost 3 months in working days.

Meanwhile, in Australia, a 2011 study carried out by insurance company Medibank concluded that presenteeism cost the Australian economy an estimated A$34.1 billion between 2009 and 2010. The surprisingly high figure equated to a fall of 2.7% in GDP compared to productivity in normal circumstances.

With these facts in mind, the traditional obsession with absenteeism could be described as a misplaced concern, and effort should be put into preventing presenteeism. But how exactly can this be done? Here are 5 steps that should help.


5 Steps To Beating Presenteeism

    1. It Doesn’t Impress

Most cases of presenteeism are rooted in the firm belief that turning up sick to work shows the boss just how committed they are. The payoff is a positive impression made and the improved possibility of advancement. It’s important to let your staff know that bringing illness into the workplace, and thereby putting everyone else’s health at risk, is not going to win any brownie points. Moreover, let them know that perfect attendance will not influence how management assesses work or performance.

    1. Lost Time Can Be Won Back

Zero-hour employees and freelancers share a fear of losing hours. Usually, only full-time employees are assured of their entitlement to paid sick days, so the part-timers feel they cannot afford to take a day off sick. By offering assurances that those hours can be worked back over time, it is possible to soften the blow and encourage a willingness to stay at home when ill.

    1. More Accurate Illness Assessment

It’s surprising how many people are unable to properly assess their state of health. A few sniffles are hardly going to be a problem, but there are some who will cry off sick if they chip a toenail. At the other end of the scale, there are also those who consider themselves fine unless a limb has been lost. Many incidents of presenteeism come down to the employee thinking their illness is not enough to justify a day off work. So it’s a good idea to educate them on what a qualifying illness is. For example, absence is preferable where:

      • the illness is contagious and is likely to infect others (eg: the ‘flu)
      • the illness is likely to affect concentration and performance (eg: tooth aches, severe migraine)
      • working is likely to cause injuries (eg: back, ankle)

Briefing your staff to consider these factors before deciding to come into work could be good for their colleagues as much as themselves.

    1. Sick Days Are No Threat

Research has shown that some sick employees turn up for work because they fear they could lose their job. Why? Because they believe they are dispensable. While it is true that employees can be replaced, none should feel they could be punished for taking sick days. This particular situation indicates two problems: that your people are slightly paranoid; and employee confidence is low.

To address the first, make sure your employees know their sick-day entitlements and that you are adhering to them.

To address the second, reiterate their value to your organization. Tell them you need them cured and on top form and taking sick days is the best way they can make a proper recovery.

    1. Offer Remote Working At Critical Times

Usually, the final days of a project are the most critical, so a committed employee who has been involved for months will want to see it over the line – even if it means coming into work sick. But what value would there be in kick-starting a mini-epidemic at work? Offer your employees the option to work from home in the final days of the project, and communicate through their devices than physically coming to the workplace.

About the Author

AnnualLeave is a leading employee leave management tool on the market, lifting the HR headache by cutting request processing times, monitoring leave trends, and maintaining company compliance all with one user-friendly, affordable self-service app. For more information you can get in touch with one of our team via our online form or email at

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