Employers failing to realise potentially serious consequences of presenteeism

Written by Vicky Mulchinock on . Posted in News

Employers failing to realise potentially serious consequences of presenteeism

Nearly one quarter (23%) of employees would only take time off work if they were hospitalised, according to new research from Canada Life Group Insurance. The study of more than 1,000 employees found that nearly nine out of ten people (89%) said that had gone into work when feeling ill.

When the researchers asked people why they went to work sick, more than two-thirds (69%) said they didn’t think their problem was big enough to warrant a sick day and one quarter (22%) said their decision was due to financial concerns. Alongside this, the culture of their workplace influenced their decision; 34% of those polled said their workload was too high for a day off and 12% said that they would have been made to feel guilty by their colleagues and senior staff if they took time off.

The study also highlights how a culture of presenteeism may affect the health of employees, with nearly half (48%) of respondents reporting they thought they had become unwell because of a colleague’s illness on more than one occasion.

Neil Mountford, chair of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association noted that many employers have failed to realise the potentially serious consequences of presenteeism for an organisation and its people. “An employee who is in work but is poorly, distracted, anxious, depressed and less productive that they would ordinarily be can have a significant impact on safety, productivity and wellbeing,” he said.

Alongside the use of services such as employee assistance programmes to minimise the impact of presenteeism on employees and an organisation, Neil identifies some other practical steps that employers can adopt:

  • Implement line manager training to understand and manage ‘difficult’ employee issues. Many employees suffering from personal or professional problems will feel valued and supported by a line manager who asks how things are or acknowledges that they are in work despite difficult home or work situations.


  • Provide employees with clear guidance in relation to compassionate leave, flexibility in working hours and the organisation’s willingness to offer staff ‘time out’ during the working day to make necessary telephone calls. This may mean the difference between employees coming into work or taking time off from their duties.


  • Communicate the availability of Employee Assistance Programmes. Ensure employees are aware of the service and the type of assistance it can provide with regular promotion; if you’re not in need of such services it’s easy to forget about the range of support services available and how to access them.


  • Cultivate a healthy working environment. Offer staff training in, for example, managing stress in and out of the workplace. Consider launching lunchtime activity clubs or walks, for example, to encourage exercise as well as supportive working relationships across all levels of the organisation.


  • Position line managers as the first line of available support within the business. Develop a confidential feedback forum, for example, for employees to express their ideas and views in relation to policies, procedures and health and wellbeing in the workplace.

To read more about Canada Life’s research click here.

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