Understanding Presenteeism

  • Only 19% of British workers think stress is an acceptable reason to take time off work
  • 48% feel that their employers don’t care about their mental or physical health
  • Of those who have taken time off due to stress, only 5% admitted to their boss that it was stress-related
  • Presenteeism costs businesses between 1.8 to 2.5 times more than sickness absence
  • The cost of poor health to business is around £3000 per employee, per year

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism refers to staff coming into work when they’re not fully healthy, meaning that they’re less productive and engaged than they would be normally. Presenteeism could be a result of minor illness, stress or other low-level mental health issues, or even something as simple as not getting enough sleep.

In some cases, presenteeism can be made worse by a workplace culture where staff don’t feel comfortable taking sick days. In the case of minor illnesses, many employees will choose to come to work if they have a cold – even though they’ll be less productive than usual, will take longer to recover, and run the risk of passing their illness on to other staff members!


Stress is an especially big problem in this area. According to research from Benenden, only 19% of British workers think stress is an acceptable reason to take time off work. This means that many workers are pushing themselves to keep working, adding to their stress and potentially causing serious mental health problems for themselves. And what employer wants a workplace where everyone is overworked and frazzled?

Shockingly, the same study found that only 17% of British workers think that broader mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, are a good enough reason to take time off. There is a taboo around discussing mental health in the workplace that hugely contributes to presenteeism. 48% of those surveyed felt that their employer did not care about their mental and physical health, making them less likely to share problems. A YouGov poll commissioned by Mind found that, of those workers who had needed to take time off sick due to stress, just 5% admitted to their boss that it was stress-related.

Clearly, presenteeism is a big problem – and it may be a much bigger problem in your workplace than you realise.

What are the effects of presenteeism?

Presenteeism has a serious impact on the business bottom line, due to lost productivity. The exact impact is difficult to measure, but estimates range from 1.8 to 2.5 times the cost of absenteeism. Yes, you read that right – presenteeism is costing you twice as much as sickness absence and all it’s related costs! Our best calculations suggest that staff illness, including both presenteeism and absenteeism, costs your business £3000 per employee, per year (ask us about our Cost of Health Calculator for more on this).


As well as the hard numbers, presenteeism could be affecting your workplace in a number of other ways. Work-related stress can cause physical illness in individuals when left untreated, including headaches, sleep disturbance, increased blood pressure, and mental illnesses including depression and anxiety – so a stressed employee who keeps working could lead themselves to long-term sickness absence. As for the organisation itself, staff who don’t feel looked after at work will be less engaged, affecting team dynamics and quality of work. High levels of presenteeism are typically linked with high staff turnover, poor timekeeping among staff, low morale, and more complaints and accident reports from staff.

So what can you do?

The first thing to realise is that, by reading this blog, you’re already taking an interest in your staff’s health – so you’re off to a good start! There are a number of ways you can support your staff and reduce presenteeism.

Mind have a great range of resources for employers, aimed at breaking taboos and creating workplaces that are supportive of those with mental health issues. If stress is a problem in your workplace (and let’s be honest, in 2015 we’re all pretty stressed), Mind have got a load of suggestions for helping your staff to communicate openly and honestly about their experiences.

Understanding your staff’s health is also a great first step to creating a happier, healthier workplace – and luckily, that’s what we specialise in at Nudjed! Visit nudjed.com, or talk to a member of our team, to find out how Nudjed Insights could help you to reduce presenteeism in your organisation.

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Presenteeism thrives in high-pressure environments with poor communication. By showing your staff that you care about their health and wellbeing, and providing opportunities for honest conversations, you can shift your company culture to one where everyone is as healthy, happy and productive as possible.

To learn more about how Nudjed Insights could improve health and wellbeing in your organisation, contact hello@nudjed.com or visit nudjed.com


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