The first day back at work after the festive season can mean that employees are present in body but not in mind. While this may be a temporary problem and one which afflicts most of the nation, more persistent presenteeism problems can have serious consequences for businesses.

Presenteeism is when employees turn up for work but are underperforming. Typically it will be due to ill health but it can also relate to other underlying issues. Official figures estimate that the cost of presenteeism in England is £30bn annually. Another study put the annual cost of mental health-related presenteeism alone at £ £15.1b or £605 per UK worker. Crucially it all adds up to de-motivated employees and lower workplace productivity.

Employers have usually been more concerned with absence due to sickness yet the annual cost of presenteeism is “twice that of absenteeism” according to a CIPD Annual Absence Management Report which measured the impact of presenteeism. It’s not always better to have employees at work than not at all. In the long run ‘negative presenteeism’ can lead to futureproblems and more immediately unwell workers can be a hazard, either passing on infections or making dangerous mistakes.

Spotting the signs of presenteeism

It can be challenging to spot the signs of presenteeism. Workers may be at desks or work stations seemingly busy with their work. However good line managers can detect when this invisible problem strikes – it’s often a combination of coming to work when not well enough, missing deadlines and generally not being as productive as usual. Employees themselves may not even be aware or have identified a problem. Other drivers may include under-recruitment elsewhere in the team where employees feel obliged to ‘soldier on’ and cover the work. Managers should be alert to when additional pressures are present and where strict absence policies may be having a counter-productive effect.

How to deal with presenteeism:

  • Ensure staff take their annual leave – 25 per cent of UK workers do not take their full annual holiday entitlement, according to HR experts. This can lead to burn-out and employees not having a proper work-life balance
  • Monitor staff working long hours – HR studies also reveal that 70% of UK workers work longer than 40 hours a weeks and 11% work over 60 hours or more a week. Far from leading to greater productivity, a consistent pattern of longer working can make workers ill, leading to under performance and illness.
  • Consider other forms of working – alternatives to the 9-to-5 pattern can bring tangible benefits for both the employee and the business. Consider arranging flexible or remote working, even for limited periods when a staff member is finding it difficult to cope. Schedule-based working can also be a good incentive and could counteract presenteeism.
  • Check work roles – it’s part of an employer’s responsibility to ensure that work is safe, well designed and well-managed. The HSE’s Management Standards outlines six key areas of work which, if not properly implemented, can lead to poor health and reduced productivity. These include paying attention to factors such as workload, worker control, line management support and organisational change.

If you want employees to be positively present a key message is to be pro-active. It’s part of promoting good employee engagement and ensuring you make the best of your most valuable asset – you staff.

The Chronologic Workforce Management System offers an excellent way to keep track of staff. It enables businesses to monitor hours worked, annual leave and other absences in one simple and cost-effective system.

For more information about our solutions and products call 01761 410015 or email