Whilst it’s commonly recognised around the world that sickness absence or absenteeism in the workplace can impact on the overall running of a business, more recently there has been a growing shift towards presenteeism at work – causing a loss of productivity employers and an overall risk to health and wellbeing employees.

Kevin Rogers, Chief Executive here at Paycare, explained: “Presenteeism is essentially the act of showing up for work while feeling unwell or unable to function effectively. Whilst employees are ‘physically’ present in the workplace, they’re unable to operate at their full capacity – due to one or more reasons including illness, stress, a long-term condition, or wider relationship issues.”

According to a survey by Aviva UK1, workers in the UK are said to be three times more likely to struggle into work than take sick leave when needed – with seven in ten (69%) private sector workers (equivalent to 18 million nationally) admitting to having gone into work when they should have taken the day off ill.

Presenteeism is particularly common-place in companies where there is an ‘always on’ culture – where long working hours are the norm, and where the responsibility of the job takes over the importance of employee wellbeing.  And, unlike absenteeism, presenteeism is often extremely difficult to detect, as employees still show up for work as normal.

Whilst many employees assume going to work when ill is beneficial, it could actually be doing more harm than good. Decreased productivity, poor work quality and compromised safety, not to mention longer recovery times, mean that going to work whilst ill can have an adverse effect. So, what steps can employers can take to support workers when they’re feeling unwell and encourage them back to full health?


Take a close look at your company’s sick leave policy. Strategies that implement strict rules for hours of work may discourage staff from taking time off when they need to. The knock-on effect of this is that workers feel that they have little choice other than to turn up for work.  To overcome this, make sure your line managers are supportive towards absence at work and adopt a more flexible approach to illness by encouraging time off when needed.


Demanding jobs and high-level workloads can cause staff to become stressed or over-burdened. It’s important for managers to recognise signs of stress and adopt positive working practices. Take action to prevent presenteeism by engaging with staff, encourage open and honest discussion and look for changes in the behaviour or appearance of your employees. Try to listen to their needs, restructure workloads if they are struggling and make it clear that your company is sympathetic if they’re feeling unwell.

Work/Life Balance

Take small steps by encouraging individuals to take breaks away from their desk or work stations. If there is a staff room or communal eating area available, staff are more likely to take time out, giving them the break that they need and are entitled to. Encourage staff not to send emails outside of work hours and make sure workers take their full holiday entitlement, so they can fully switch off from their duties. All of this will help ensure a much healthier and happier workforce.


In addition to the above – which are all pretty straightforward and in most cases absolutely statutory – there are additional ways in which employers can support their staff when they’re not feeling 100%. Services focused on ensuring the overall wellbeing of staff can not only ensure individuals stay healthy, but they can ensure that, if they do become unwell, that they are fully, and quickly supported back to full health.

Some of the other supportive and cost-effective ways to support staff include:

  • EAPs | EAPs, or Employee Assistance Programmes, have been around since the 1970s and work by providing individuals support if they are facing difficult or challenging situations in their personal lives which is impacting their performance at work. These programmes are confidential and can be used for a wide variety of issues such as stress, financial worries and relationship problems.
  • Health Screening | Some organisations choose to adopt health screening plans for their staff, where employers refund 100% of the cost up to a yearly total, dependant on the agreement and the level of cover that the employee chooses.
  • GP 24/7 | It’s not always convenient for an employee to speak to a GP during work hours, so advice lines like our GP 24/7 give the option of round-the clock reassurance and peace of mind, knowing that they’re able to speak to a qualified GP any time of the day, or night.

Many employees assume that their employer doesn’t value their health and wellbeing, but the motivation and physical wellness of employees is vital in maintaining a happy, productive and profitable workforce.  It’s imperative that employers not only acknowledge that individuals aren’t able to perform at their best 100% of the time, but that they take an holistic view of their team’s physical and mental health and proactively implement programs to discourage presenteeism within their organisations.


1 | Aviva Study | https://www.managers.org.uk/insights/news/2017/august/uk-employees-three-times-as-likely-to-go-to-work-unwell-than-pull-a-sickie

Raconteur | https://www.raconteur.net/business/presenteeism-hidden-costs-wellbeing

HR Review | https://www.hrreview.co.uk/hr-news/wellbeing-news/absenteeism-vs-presenteeism-worse-remaining-staff/109671