Presenteeism, or why being present at work is not always the better choice - Helping Hand - Mental Health Programme

Presenteeism, or why being present at work is not always the better choice

Employers still assess employees’ performance based on the number of sick days taken. They often overlook those who come to work despite being unwell. This choice is often made by employees struggling with poor mental health because their illness is not visible, and they do not want to be accused of pretending or avoiding responsibilities. However, presenteeism is the main factor generating costs for employers.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism is when employees come to work despite being sick. It is primarily associated with reduced productivity because feeling unwell hinders us from performing at the same level as when we are fully healthy.


Presenteeism is particularly common among employees who are dealing with poor mental health. They choose not to take time off and opt for ineffective presence at work. Why? When we have physical symptoms of illness, our coworkers may encourage us to go home. However, when we are only suffering mentally, we might be accused of pretending. We may also believe that since we “look healthy,” there is no reason to take time for self-recovery.


Taking care of our mental well-being is essential. Employers should also be mindful of this because the health of employees (and all its aspects) impacts the functioning of the entire organization.

Poor mental health of employees costs European employers 378-469 billion euros annually.

Presenteeism or absence – which is “better” for employers?

Organizations still focus on calculating and curbing employee absences, overlooking the impact of presenteeism on financial results. Undoubtedly, measuring ineffective presence at work is more challenging, which calls for clear communication within the company. Employees need to take care of their health, even when symptoms are not visible.


Research indicates that 81% of employees dealing with mental health issues do not opt for taking time off. Why? There are numerous reasons, including fear of job security, being excluded from raises or bonuses, not wanting colleagues to perceive them as escaping from tasks when workload increases, and believing that taking leave is not justified without physical illness symptoms.


The number of lost days due to illness is increasing, but presenteeism has a greater impact than absenteeism. In 2014, 23 productive workdays were lost – 88% due to presenteeism and 12% due to absenteeism. In 2019, this number increased to 38 days – 92% due to presenteeism and 8% due to absenteeism. Presenteeism related to mental health intensified during the coronavirus pandemic.


The data speaks for itself. The costs of presenteeism related to mental health are multiple times higher for employers compared to the costs of absenteeism for the same reason. The costs of presenteeism are on average three times higher than those related to absenteeism (ranging from 255-304 billion euros and 79-99 billion euros, respectively) – constituting two-thirds of the total cost.

Presenteeism is the main factor generating costs for employers. However, only 45% of organizations experiencing it take active measures to address this issue.

Health of employees and mental well-being vs organizational outcomes

The mental well-being of employees is crucial for the functioning of a company – we cannot pretend otherwise. Most of us live in a constant state of stress, and it affects not only our personal lives but also our professional lives. We are not disconnected from the information, and we know what the job market looks like. An overload of responsibilities, performance pressure, ever-changing decisions – all of this leads us on one hand towards burnout, and on the other hand, we are still afraid to take care of ourselves because we don’t want to lose our jobs.


That’s why it’s essential for employers to pay greater attention to the mental well-being of employees. It impacts their engagement, productivity, decision-making abilities, conflict resolution, and task prioritization. Poor well-being not only affects the quality of work and outcomes but also the overall mood within the team.

What can you do?

Take care of employee well-being. A supportive organization, managers with developed soft skills, a range of stress-reducing solutions – all of this will make employees feel comfortable taking care of themselves. Implementing a well-being strategy will impact the functioning of the company in many ways. It’s not just about financial results but also about how employees perceive the organization – both current and future ones.


Not sure where to start? Together, we can ensure the comfort of employees in your organization. We are a leader in prevention, and our comprehensive support programs include webinars, individual consultations with specialists, premium content, and mindfulness. At Helping Hand, we understand the importance of caring not only for the body but also for the soul. And psychological comfort will translate into effective presence at work.


Source: Mind Matters, Building Resilience Report, maj 2021.

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