Presenteeism in the workplace

How can you stop your employees from overworking?

There’s a new-fangled practice in the business world. It’s “presenteeism” and some employees, and potentially even business owners, think it’s a great idea.

Unfortunately, it can have counterproductive long-term consequences.

So, in this article we’ll take a look at what this habit is and how you can stop your staff members from doing it.

What is presenteeism in the UK?

Simply put, it’s the opposite of absenteeism. All business owners know what that is. But fewer might consider the effects of overly present employees.

A presenteeism definition is as simple as this: employees who work while sick or provide excessive overtime. 

In the economic downturn of recent years, more and more staff members become reluctant to take time off.

This is in the fear it may lead to them having an unfavourable viewing by management. The result is employees:

  • Turning up to work when they’re sick.
  • Staying far later than they need to during the working week.
  • Coming into work at the weekends or during annual leave.
  • Continuing to work from home at the weekend, or when returning home.
  • Answering emails late into the night to stay on top of tasks.

The reality of this overcommitment is presenteeism in the workplace. And it isn’t a good thing.

Although it may offer short-term benefits, in the long-term it can lead to your staff members becoming anxious, depressed, and overly stressed.

This, in turn, leads to decreased productivity.

Contributing factors to presenteeism

So why would staff members over commit and spend their free time working instead of relaxing?

According to the CIPD survey Health and well-being at work, this habit of overworking has more than tripled since 2010.

As such, it’s fair to say modern business now promotes a presenteeism culture. The most common reasons for this are:

  • Perceived pressure from management.
  • Work-related stress.
  • Money worries.
  • Job security concerns.

With the British economic downturn continuing, many employees are simply worrying about their roles.

They’re worrying about businesses downsizing and making staff redundant.

So, in an overzealous response, some take to overworking. And, as discussed above, presenteeism in the workplace is not a good thing at all.

Sickness presence and its problems

One of the most common examples of presenteeism is an employee arriving at work despite being sick. This presents several problems:

  • The ill staff member is only delaying their recovery.
  • The work they provide won’t be to their normal standard.
  • If contagious, they risk infecting the rest of your staff.
  • They will stress themselves out to a greater extent.

One of the causes of this is that presenteeism is more common among employees with low job security.

For example, this may be new or temporary staff. They may lack sick pay or other such financial buffers. And the result is they’ll battle into work to ensure they don’t miss out on their full salary.

If this is the case, you can review your sickness policy to see if you can make improvements to the situation.

But don’t discount personality types as well. You’ll always have an employee happy to come into work regardless of their condition—if they’re a workaholic who's overly enthusiastic about their role.

The problem with presenteeism

Now you’ve got a good grasp of what it is, let’s take a closer look at some of the problems it can cause:

  • Wider business sickness issues—ill employees coming to work regardless of their condition can make other staff members ill. This can have a major impact on your business’ productivity.
  • A sick employee’s attendance can affect their colleagues’ morale as they worry over whether they’ll get ill as well. Again, this is another productivity issue.
  • From a legal perspective, it’s your duty to look after your staff. And if they’re overworking themselves to the extent it affects their physical and mental health, you have to take steps to manage their health & safety.
  • Productivity issues. Ultimately, consistently overworking employees will tire themselves out. They could end up burnt out—emotionally incapable of producing high-quality work.
  • Increased mistakes as staff members, through fatigue, attempt to work to a standard they’re mentally not able to maintain.

Prevention methods

Okay, so now you’ve got a good idea of why your employees need to honour their schedule.

There’s nothing wrong with them having commitment to their job and performing some occasional overtime. But when it’s a consistent theme you can soon have an unwell member of staff.

As such, here are a few preventive measures you can take to stop presenteeism:

  • Training: Offer your line managers upskilling so they’re able to recognise the issue early on and move to stamp it out.
  • Capability policies: Take a different approach to sickness. If an employee exceeds their sick day quota, rather than disciplining them you could try a support structure to encourage sick staff back to work.
  • Paid sick leave: To stop employees from battling into work, offer statutory sick pay. This will ease a lot of pressure from them and allow them to recover properly before returning to work.
  • Staff surveys: Hold monthly surveys to ask your employees about their working life with you. This could provide insights into why some of them may be overworking.
  • Develop a wellbeing strategy: Introduce health-promoting initiatives at work to encourage better mental, and physical, health. This could include a cycle to work scheme or free fruit.

Do you need more help with this topic?

We can help deal with the issue of overwork and improve your company culture. Get in touch with us today on: 0800 783 2806.

Have a question?

Ask away, we’ve got lightning fast answers for UK business owners and employers powered by qualified experts.

    Share this article

    More on leave and absence

    Do you have an absence management policy?

    Bad news: sometimes your staff are going to be off sick . But fear not! At the end of this guide, you'll know all you need to know about…


    Sometimes your staff will get sick and need time-off, but occasionally they might try to “pull a sickie”. And once they know they can get…

    Employee annual leave

    It’s generally agreed that a healthy balance between work and time off is essential for a healthy and happy workforce. Your organisation…

    Compassionate leave and bereavement leave

    It's a grim reality that some of your staff will lose their loved ones while working for you. In these instances, people need time off to…

    Garden Leave

    This peculiar term causes quite a lot of confusion in the business world. It throws up images of employees taking time off to tend to their…

    Holiday request forms

    The unpredictability of staff absences can make it a challenging HR task—and a costly one. The average UK worker is absent almost seven days…

    Are your employees skiving?

    Whether they're skiving at work or they're pulling a sickie away from the office, an employee not doing their job properly will count as…

    Long-Term Sickness

    For many businesses, managing long-term sickness can prove to be difficult. Long-term leave can add strain and create a financial burden on…

    What is maternity leave and pay?

    It was only in 1993 that all working women were permitted to take paid maternity leave in the UK. Thankfully, most companies are now much…

    Parental Leave

    From time to time, your employees may have to take time off to look after their children. Parental leave can benefit your workforce, as it…

    Returning to work

    Whether your employee has been away on sabbatical, has been taken ill, or has been raising a newborn, it will take time for them to readjust…

    Employee returning to work after suspension

    When you suspend a member of staff, they’re still employed for you but don’t attend work. In fact, they should do no work for you at all…

    Sick Leave

    If you're looking for up-to-date information on COVID-19 and sick pay, please visit our coronavirus factsheet. It’s a fact of life that…

    What is the Bradford Factor?

    The Bradford Factor is a simple formula that lets you monitor employee absenteeism over a set period, such as the current business year…

    What you need to know about time off in lieu of overtime

    What is time off in lieu (TOIL) of overtime? Time off in lieu (TOIL) of overtime is where you agree with your employee that you'll reward…

    Time off for stress

    Most of us deal with stress on a daily basis, often in the workplace. But for some—over a long period of time—it can become overwhelming…

    Types of Clocking in Systems

    If your business has hourly employees then you’ll need a system to help with clocking in and out. One that monitors start and finish times…

    How should you manage unauthorised absence?

    What is unauthorised absence? Unauthorised absence is when one of your staff fails to come to work without a good reason. It goes without…

    Furlough guide for employers

    Furlough is now a business buzzword. Most professionals hadn’t heard of it before—now it’s everywhere and you can’t avoid it. For businesses…

    Flexible furlough scheme

    The coronavirus lockdown situation is changing rapidly. And with it, the UK government is making adjustments to the Job Retention Scheme…

    Clocking in and out systems for small businesses

    Although it may seem like a minor part of your business’ daily routine, how your employees arrive and leave is essential. When they clock in…

    The Benefits of Using a Clocking In App

    The working hours of your staff are fundamental to a profitable business. If staff are consistently early or late, it can have a negative…

    Absenteeism Rate

    From time to time, employees may miss work due to hundreds of reasons. You should expect your staff to be off for sickness or other causes…

    Absence Review Meeting

    From time to time, your employees will take time off. But, when an employee is off far too often, it may raise concerns for your business…

    Carers Leave

    Being a carer can often be unpredictable and arrangements can be tricky to balance in the workplace. To make your employees (who may be…

    Emergency Leave

    Leave can be a tricky subject to define for both staff and employers, especially when dealing with an absence without notice. Emergency…

    Sick Building Syndrome

    In the workplace, various types of illnesses can develop. Some may be more uncommon than others, so it’s important to keep an eye on each of…

    Late for Work

    From time to time, some of your employees will be late to work. Whether they are delayed in traffic, their car has broken down, or have…

    Adoption Leave

    At work, you may wonder what to do when an employee is adopting a child. Employees are legally entitled to take time off work to have a…


    As an employer, you must include several terms of employment in an employee’s contract. There may be occasions when an employee is asked to…