Presenteeism and the Productivity Impact

Benefit Trends Executive Health November 7, 2018

You’ve heard of absenteeism: when employees regularly don’t show up to work. The business implications of absenteeism are typically easy to see. An employee is missing, so their work isn’t getting done. Ultimately the company’s bottom line is negatively affected.

But have you properly weighed the impact of presenteeism on your work environment and bottom line? Presenteeism is when an employee comes to work while sick or distracted by a health issue. While sometimes harder to spot than absenteeism, presenteeism can have huge productivity ramifications on your company.

A Closer Look

In addition to addressing absent or disengaged employees, it’s important to be aware of employees affected by presenteeism as well.

These employees may typically be present and engaged, but due to their distraction, they are unable to perform at top levels. This can cause huge productivity loss that trickles down throughout the company. For example, if a company leader is distracted at work, the impact won’t stop at his or her work. It will also affect his or her team members, as well as partnering teams throughout the company.

On top of affecting the quantity of work, presenteeism will also affect the quality of work. Even if an employee affected by presenteeism is still performing and completing the necessary work, the quality of that work will likely be less than the usual standard. Improving work that’s sub-par can take additional time and resources that also slows down productivity.

As you can see, the productivity implications can be far reaching. In fact, health concerns can cause productivity reduction by as much as 70%. In addition, 70% of the cost to employers associated with poor health comes from lost productivity. In total, presenteeism is calculated to cost $150 billion a year.

When you consider all of these impacts, a few employees trying to “hang in there” with a cold or flu to get work done may actually end up costing you in the long run.

The Importance of Addressing Health Concerns

Presenteeism can stem from a variety of places, such as an employees’ fear of getting behind at work or the feeling that there’s no one to pick up the slack. But at its core, presenteeism is driven by suppressed health issues.

What can you, the employer, do to address this?

Make sure your employees know that you are comfortable with them taking time off to get better when they’re sick. While this may leave a temporary hole, it will be easier for the sick employee to recover. This means they’ll be able to return to working at top levels faster than if they tried to work through their sickness without getting the proper rest. This will also prevent other employees from catching the bug, too.

On top of making this sentiment clear to your employees, providing them with good health insurance can also make them see that you’re supporting their health. It reinforces that you are comfortable with them taking time off to go to the doctor and address health concerns. Putting off dealing with health issues can lead to larger concerns, in terms of both presenteeism and more serious health problems.

And finally, you could implement a company wellness program. In addition to decreasing employee absenteeism and presenteeism, wellness programs have a variety of other positive benefits, such as:

  • Higher employee retention
  • Increase in employee productivity
  • Improved workforce morale and employee satisfaction

Be Proactive About Presenteeism

It’s clear that presenteeism is quietly impacting productivity all the time. Sometimes the effects can even go unnoticed until the impact has already hit the bottom line. That’s why it’s important to be proactive about fostering a work culture that encourages health issues to be handled, rather than suppressed. Reassure sick employees that taking time to get better is the right choice. It will benefit both the employee and your company in the long run.


Harvard Business Review.

Standard Insurance Company.

Benefit News.

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