Tackling Presenteeism: Approaches for Enhancing Workforce Well-being and Efficiency

The issue of presenteeism, characterized by employees attending work while sick or dealing with personal hardships, is a growing concern for global companies. Traditionally overshadowed by absenteeism, the influence of presenteeism on both productivity and employee health has become increasingly apparent, incurring costs for companies that far exceed those of absenteeism. Various interconnected elements lead to presenteeism in the workplace:

Organizational culture: When management exhibits a preference for onsite presence or working through sickness, it fosters a workplace atmosphere where presenteeism is seen as normal or even desirable. Employees may feel compelled to show up for work despite health issues to conform to these perceived expectations.

Benefits and policies: Lack of sufficient sick leave and comprehensive benefits can deter employees from taking necessary time off. Those without paid sick leave might work while ill to avoid economic hardship.

Job insecurity: In times of economic flux or job cuts, fears over job stability might drive employees to prioritize showing up over their health, worried about being viewed as expendable or lagging in their careers.

Remote work dynamics: The transition to remote work has muddled the line between professional and personal life, pressuring some workers to prove their productivity by always being available, even when sick.

High workload expectations: A culture emphasizing high output and tight deadlines can push employees to work through illness or personal issues, leading to exhaustion and reduced well-being.

Presenteeism has extensive negative effects on individuals and organizations

Decreased productivity: Ill employees often exhibit reduced productivity, facing difficulties with concentration, making more errors, or working less efficiently. Work quality can decline due to impaired mental abilities and heightened fatigue.

Prolonged illness: Employees not allowing ample time for recovery risk extending their illnesses and worsening symptoms, which could lead to longer absences in the future.

Increased risk of errors: Illness can heighten the probability of mistakes, potentially leading to rework, delays, and safety issues in certain fields.

Negative impact on morale: Presenteeism can create a workplace environment marked by low morale and dissatisfaction. This can lead to resentment towards sick colleagues and strained team dynamics.

Undermined inclusion: Presenteeism can be especially challenging for employees with caregiving duties, disabilities, or mental health concerns, who might feel forced to prioritize work over health due to stigma or fear of repercussions.

Strategies to reduce presenteeism

To combat presenteeism, global mobility specialists recommend a comprehensive approach focusing on worker well-being and supportive workplace culture is needed. Key strategies include:

Comprehensive benefits and policies: Companies should provide ample sick leave and extensive benefits to support physical and mental health. Paid sick days, flexible schedules, and wellness program access can remove financial and logistical hurdles to taking needed time off.

Fostering a supportive culture: Leadership should exemplify a healthy work-life balance and place employee health at the forefront of company policies and practices. Promoting open dialogue, destigmatizing illness, and valuing self-care are crucial in building an environment where workers feel comfortable taking necessary time off.

Remote work flexibility: Clear guidelines and boundaries for remote work are essential to prevent presenteeism. Offering flexible hours and encouraging disconnection can help avert burnout and support well-being.

Raising awareness and training: Employers should inform staff about presenteeism risks and the importance of health prioritization. Training managers to spot and address presenteeism early can avert its detrimental effects.

Encouraging downtime: Companies should emphasize the importance of breaks and vacations. Implementing company-wide rest periods, meeting-free days, and work-life balance initiatives can help prevent burnout and foster overall well-being.

But how does one determine working unwell? Robertson Cooper, a well-being consultancy group, has a new measurement approach that identifies these three distinct types, with two of them reportedly desirable for the organization.

  • Pragmatic presence: this term refers to when employees want to be working to complete some projects despite not feeling their best. For example, you may be feeling better and decide to go to work to finish some tasks but then leave early.
  • Therapeutic presence: this category is when people get some benefit from returning to the office. Maybe you’ve been stuck at home sick for a week and are craving social connection. At that point (with your doctor’s permission), you decide to go back to work.
  • True presenteeism: this last category is always considered dysfunctional. If you return to work and are too ill to complete any projects or there is no therapeutic benefit, it is considered “true” presenteeism.


Presenteeism presents significant challenges to businesses, affecting efficiency, employee health, and company culture. By tackling the root causes of presenteeism and adopting specific strategies to enhance worker well-being, organizations can alleviate its harmful impacts and cultivate a more supportive, productive workplace. Prioritizing staff health and nurturing a caring, supportive culture enables a workforce that excels both professionally and personally.