Presenteeism – the hidden cost to UK workplaces

Presenteeism – the hidden cost to UK workplaces

When asked what the major factors are contributing to business costs in the UK workplace, you might be forgiven for highlighting absenteeism and staff turnover.

However, another factor is rapidly coming to the fore – ‘presenteeism.’

Indeed, a recent study reveals the extent of this added cost:

  • 46% of UK working employees felt more pressure to be ‘present’ during lockdown (Source: Canada Life UK).
  • More than a third continued to work during lockdown when they were ill because they feared redundancy (Source: Canada Life UK).
  • Despite a significant increase in homeworking, and the perceived flexibility brought about by new working conditions, 77% of employers observed presenteeism from colleagues working from home (Source: CIPD & Simplyhealth).
  • Two-thirds of organisations experiencing presenteeism failed to take any action (Source: CIPD & Simplyhealth).

So, what is presenteeism, and what effect is it currently having on UK businesses?

Kylee Hurrell, Director of leading business coaching agency The Threedom Coaches, explains:

“Presenteeism refers to the lost productivity caused when employees don’t fully function in the workplace because of an illness, injury, or other condition.

“Even though they may be ‘physically’ at work they don’t fully perform their duties, are more likely to make mistakes on the job, and are only delaying their full recovery.

“This can have a serious impact on an organisation’s efficiency and productivity. For example:

  • Wider business sickness issues – sick employees attending work, regardless of their condition, can make other staff members ill.
  • A sick employee’s attendance can affect their colleagues’ morale as they worry over whether they’ll get ill as well – a serious productivity issue.
  • From a legal perspective, it’s an employer’s duty to look after their staff. If they overwork themselves to the extent it affects their physical and mental health, employers need to take steps to manage health and safety.
  • 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 attempt to work to standards they can’t mentally maintain.”

According to an Institute for Employment Studies report, presenteeism is often a common condition with:

  • Workaholics.
  • People with financial problems.
  • Managers feeling they have to set an example.
  • People with depression.
  • People with unhealthy lifestyles (who don’t exercise much or have unhealthy diets).
  • Older workers.
  • Insomniacs.

It’s not rocket science that it’s easy to monitor absenteeism – quite simply, an empty desk!

But, by its very nature, it’s much harder when it comes to presenteeism.

Kylee explains: “Staff suffering from presenteeism tend to come into work when they’re sick, play down an illness, work extremely long hours and come in early or stay late – regardless of their workload.

“When employees demonstrate these traits it could be a clear warning sign that something is wrong – either at work or at home. Then it’s time to check on their motivation levels and see if you can step in before things deteriorate.

“The challenge is that it’s not always easy to tell when an employee is simply doing their job, or when they’re working excessively. It’s even harder when teams work remotely, or don’t have open lines of communication with their managers.”

Kylee concludes: ‘Taking time out of work mode to recover from illness – mental or physical -is essential to the productivity and growth of any successful business.

“The fact that over a third of UK workers admit to working despite being unwell is a serious cause for concern.”

Look out for our next article in our series on the impact of presenteeism – “What can employers do to stop presenteeism in the workplace?”

The Threedom Coaches programme is refreshingly different because it uses emotional intelligence, NLP, the experience of those who have worked in the corporate world and practical tools to create a unique team culture. Its sole aim is to build and maintain an environment that employees will thrive in, with consistency, high ethics and trust at the centre of the programme. For further information visit