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What is presenteeism and how we can we reduce it?

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With Mental Health Awareness Week upon us, we are considering the impact the workplace can have on our mental health.  Many employees will go off sick when they are unwell, but there is a growing rise in presenteeism.  Our Employment team here review what this means, and how businesses can be supporting their employees through any concerns about their mental health. 

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism is where people come in to work when they are unwell.  This can lead to illnesses spreading in the workplace and employees taking longer to recover.  Presenteeism has started to cover:

  • Habitual voluntary overtime: people may habitually stay at work for longer than required due to feeling insecure in their job, leading to tiredness and less productivity.
  • Disengagement: where employees are not fully engaged or motivated.
  • Technological presenteeism: some employees are regularly responding to emails outside of working hours.

According to a Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) survey in 2018, presenteeism has more than tripled since 2010.  86% of respondents observed presenteeism in their organisation but only 25% had taken steps to discourage it.

How can we reduce presenteeism?

It is important that you consider what steps you can take to reduce presenteeism, not only to reduce the risk of physical sicknesses spreading through your workplace, but also to help combat mental health issues, which can be caused by feelings of insecurity or pressure to work. 

If you are concerned about the levels of presenteeism, we would suggest you:

  • Review absence policies - you could offer a number of paid sick days per year which may reduce the financial burdens of employees who cannot only rely on or do not qualify for Statutory Sick Pay.
  • Reconsider workloads - you should ensure you have enough people to cover the available work so people do not feel  pressure to be present because the work will not get done.
  • Explain the thresholds for taking sick leave clearly - for example, someone with a cold may come in to work but more severe symptoms such as a fever may require leave.
  • Setting an example with senior staff - if an employee comes in to work whilst ill, the people they manage may also feel the pressure to do so.  If those at senior levels take sick leave when needed this will create healthier attitudes to absence.
  • Tackle mental health stigma - if mental health and wellbeing are seen as important in the work environment and are a part of the workplace culture, employees will be more likely to disclose mental health issues to their employers who may be able to take steps to tackle this.
  • Offer mental health days - employees may feel that taking time off for mental health issues isn’t comparable to a physical illness with similar effects.  For example, the Mental Health Foundation offers their staff three ‘wellbeing days’ a year for stressful periods.
  • Limit communications outside of work - explaining that employees do not have to respond to work queries outside of their working hours may help staff maintain better health and wellbeing with a clear distinction between working and non-working hours.
  • Offer intervention programmes - such as massage services, relaxation classes, one on one coaching and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Mental health is becoming a regularly discussed topic with employers, which is encouraging when moving towards removing the stigma associated with the illness.  If you have questions for our Employment team about how you can manage an employee who is suffering with mental ill health, you may wish to attend our Mental Health Check Masterclass in July, the details of which you can find here.  Alternatively, call our Employment team today on 023 8071 7717 or email


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.