Presenteeism – the invisible productivity killer

Presenteeism is the term used to describe employees who go to work when they are unwell and should be at home. They are physically at work but not well enough to carry out their duties due to being physically unwell, or because of a mental health issue, or both. This happens in all sectors and many organisations have reported it as a concern.

“‘Presenteeism’ remains an issue for most organisations. More than four-fifths (83% in 2019 and 86% in 2018) of respondents, across all sectors and sizes of organisation, report they have observed ‘presenteeism’ in their organisation over the past 12 months.”  (CIPD Health and Well-being at Work Report 2019 Survey Report April, 2019 conducted in partnership with Simplyhealth)

What causes presenteeism and what impact does this have on the employee, their colleagues and business productivity?

One reason an employee may feel they cannot take time off work when they are unwell is the worry that they may lose their job through the organisation’s restructure or downsizing if they are not present at work.  Employees suffering from mental health issues may feel unable to let their manager know for fear of losing their job.  Reasons employees suffer from mental health issues can include work-related stress through overload, poor working conditions, bullying, difficult work colleagues and may include more than one factor.  Therefore, the employee may be too anxious to explain their condition to their employer for fear of retribution.  Arguably, an employee with a physical illness who attends work while unwell is also doing so for fear of losing their job, therefore, they may also be suffering from work related stress.

An employee who is unwell and conceivably suffering from exhaustion would be unable to perform to their full capacity. Additionally, if they are suffering from a physical illness they may pass on their ailment to colleagues, customers, clients.  The possible consequence could be a higher percentage of staff absenteeism or presenteeism, resulting in loss of productivity.

What can an employer do to reduce presenteeism?

Good leadership is the key to ensure a healthy ethos in the workplace by examining all working practices and focusing on the causes of work-related stress in their organisation.  By ensuring the wellbeing of their employees organisations will benefit from a productive workforce.

If you would like more information on mental health awareness and reducing stress in the workplace, or to book a place on one of the courses listed below, please contact Ann Duly at or telephone 07712298825.

  • MHFA England one-day mental health awareness and skills course qualifies employees as MHFA Champions.
  • MHFA England two-day Adult or Youth course qualifies employees as Mental Health First Aiders.
  • Bespoke courses delivered in-house tailored to suit your organisation’s needs.