13 February 2023

How to reduce presenteeism in the workplace

Presenteeism in the workplace

We have all been there. You're at your office desk, but your mind is still wandering at home. 

"I wonder how my mum is doing."

"I promised my kids a trip to Destiny Land this holiday, but my tight schedule won't allow it."

These and other similar thoughts are rushing through your mind, threatening to squeeze productivity out of your day. Before you know it, they usher in a nasty headache, stress, or other serious issues. 

Presenteeism in the workplace is a major issue that can jeopardize productivity and spark hostility. In this situation, workers are physically present but not emotionally or mentally engaged. 

Notorious reasons behind presenteeism include unreasonable workloads, tight deadlines, uncertainty for job security, strict sick leave policies, inflexible work arrangements, poor employee wellness, lack of appropriate benefits schemes, and poor communication. Employees that return from sick leave may also display presenteeism if they don't get enough support.  

Studies show that 2019 saw 45% of UK employees experiencing presenteeism, a 16% jump from 2014's figure (29%). That means companies must act proactively to keep this issue at bay and promote a positive workplace environment. Here are some of the tried-and-true solutions that can reduce presenteeism:

1. Roll Out Flexible Work Arrangements

While the standard 9-5 schedule has served the organization for decades, today's employees desire flexible working hours and promote work life balance. That way, they can attend to their personal needs and work duties.

Don't remain behind as companies respond accordingly. Some of the flexible arrangements you can consider include:

  • Flexible working hours: An employee may need to drop her kids at school at 9 am. How about allowing her to come to the job at 10 am instead of 9 am? She can clock out at 6 pm to compensate for that one hour. 
  • Telecommunicating days: Allow remote working several days before and after major holidays. This will help your workers travel during the holidays without stress.
  • Summer or Winter Fridays: Let employees clock out a few hours earlier or work half days on summer Fridays. You can even give them the whole day off and distribute those Friday work hours to other business days. 
  • Compressed workweeks: Some employees may desire a four-day workweek, working for 10 days per day and taking off on Mondays or Fridays. A 9-hour/day cycle is another great option (In this case, 8-hour work Fridays can alternate with Friday offs).  

Flexible schedules can also help workers reintegrate after a lengthy time off. They won't have to contend with an illness that comes with overwhelming work. 

Today's cutting–edge technology powers flexible working schedules. Furthermore, laws allow workers to request such arrangements from their employers. 

2. Walk the Talk

Setting a good example is among the best ways of influencing employees to avoid presenteeism. If you report on duty while sick, employees won't consider your initiatives to be serious. 

Adopt a presenteeism-free culture, ensuring it rolls out from the top management to the junior-most employee. Is the issue prevalent among executive members and managers? Address it at that level before moving down the hierarchy. 

Delegation is a managerial practice that helps reinforce this culture—employees will learn that it's okay to ask for help from a fellow worker. Does a crucial task need you while on sick leave? Phone calls, video calls, or even WhatsApp chats will come to your rescue. Yes, technology makes things easier. 

3. Provide Support to Employee Health and Wellbeing

Employee wellbeing activities can help reduce presenteeism. It keeps workers fit and helps minimize health conditions, boosting productivity.

Fig. 2: Supporting unwell employees


  • Encourage your employees to exercise, eat a balanced diet, and sleep well
  • Promote stress management initiatives such as medication
  • Deal with mental health-related stigma
  • Encourage breaks and rests even at workplaces
  • Welcome pets accompanying their employees
  • Create smoke-free zones

These initiatives can also shove mental health problems from the road to employee productivity. Such problems include depression, stress, and anxiety. The advantages don't end there: Your employees will feel appreciated and get the morale to give their best.

4. Launch Relevant Benefit Schemes

 Sickness absence and presenteeism have one thing in common: They can lead to plummeting productivity and skyrocketing costs. Workers who struggle through a medical issue can not only be disengaged and unproductive but also prone to causing errors and accidents.

Fig. 3: Launch the appropriate benefit schemes

So companies should pinpoint underlying or historical health issues for each employee. These insights can help tailor benefits and wellness programs that suit individual workers. Employee health risk assessments, screening, claims, and feedback data will come to your rescue here. 

For example, is the employee struggling with mental health problems such as depression? You may provide or arrange for counselling support for them. Workers with musculoskeletal issues will appreciate cash plans that help them afford physiotherapy services. Providing adequate insurance coverage is another trick.

5. Review Your Policy

Many organizations focus on absenteeism management policies and forget that presenteeism is another contributor to health-related unproductivity. According to research by Willis Towers Watson, workers may fear taking enough offs if a company employs aggressive sick leave policies. The feeling of job insecurity can cause absenteeism to be replaced by another equally serious issue—presenteeism. 

Fig. 4: Review sick leave policies

Employers should train managers to recognize the connection between these two situations. Roll out a more flexible approach to absence and encourage workers to take necessary time off. Review:

  • How, when, and to whom should employees report an absence
  • When should they provide proof of illness or self-certify
  • The amount and length of sick pay 
  • The support they'll get from the company, such as an assistance program

Remember to communicate these policies adequately and intertwine them into your workplace culture.

6. Support Employees Coming Back From Sick Leaves

The old-school punitive approach (to discourage abuse of sick off) doesn't cut it anymore. There's a need to support workers during and after their sick leaves. 

As previously unwell employee resume work, care must be taken not to force them to work through physical and mental health issues. You don't want to affect their morale and productivity. Also, symptoms such as headaches and colds can mask more serious conditions like depression. 

The trick here is to adopt a proactive approach. HR, managers, and occupational health personnel must monitor the conditions and symptoms of a sick employee before they escalate. 

7. Open Communication is Crucial

Open communication and employee engagement are game-changers in today's world. In fact, it's the secret to understanding every employee and rolling out appropriate policies, flexible schedules, benefits, wellness programs, and other support initiatives. 

Fig 5: Open employee communication

Identify workers who are anxious that taking sick offs might put them out of work. Hold open dialogue to uncover issues affecting employee morale and workplace productivity. 

Sensitize workers about sickness issues and inform them of available company-initiated treatment options. Seminars, emails, briefings, and other means of communication will come in handy here. Encourage them to approach the management whenever an issue needs external healthcare assistance. 

Open and two-way dialogue reassures your employees that they won't be reprimanded or judged based on their health conditions. It encourages employees to communicate freely whenever they need a sick off or an extra hand on the deck. The result is more proactive interventions and smooth back-to-work transitions. 

8. Dig Deeper Using Surveys

Regular employee surveys can reveal a lot and help you understand the root cause of presenteeism. First, brainstorm on the possible issues. 

Fig. 6: Employee surveys

Consulting top executives, HR, and departmental managers is a great place to start. They have a finger on the organization's pulse and understand its workplace culture and strategic goals. Next, survey the whole workforce or a representative sample of employees.

Remember to revisit past surveys and identify issues that were collected. Did the company address them, or are they pending? If possible, you may survey employees who exited the company. While such surveys may be biased, you can get valuable feedback from honest past workers. 

9. Review the Workforce's Workloads

Looming deadlines often cause stress to workers whose plates are overflowing with tasks. And asking for help may sound like overburdening other equally-overwhelmed co-workers. So you should review each worker's responsibilities and ensure they can manage them. 

Be there whenever your workers need you, and stage face-to-face meetings regularly. That way, you can monitor them and identify where they could use some extra hands. But be careful not to turn this tip into micromanagement and worsen presenteeism in the workplace. Some of the things to monitor include employees': 

  • Time schedules
  • Current or pending tasks
  • Project's progress
  • Time spent per task
  • Value from each task or project

Encouraging employees to prioritize their most important tasks is another trick that can reduce presenteeism. They should break work into biteable chunks, manage time, and take lunch breaks to recharge after every work session. Time tracker techniques and scheduling software come in handy here.  

Stay On Top of Presenteeism

Presenteeism is a common issue affecting organizations. Ensure your radar catches this issue whenever it crops up amongst your workforce and arrest it immediately. Working with cutting-edge technology makes this mission a breeze.

Welcome Shiftbase workplace management software. We have helped over 4,000 organizations to increase employee engagement with our employee scheduling, time-tracking, and absence management solutions. Try our solution now and see how it will help you reduce presenteeism. 


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