Company Culture   |  Engagement   |  Presenteeism   |  Wellbeing   |  

The spiraling issue of presenteeism in the UK and what you can do to avoid it in your organisation

Woody Allen once said that 80% of success in life can be attributed to simply showing up. Well, any organisation experiencing issues with presenteeism would have much to say to the contrary!

In this short read, we explore the rising rates of presenteeism in the UK. We’ll look at how it has impacted organisations in 2019, new trends in presenteeism behaviours and we’ll give business leaders actionable advice to tackle this issue in their own workplace. 


Presenteeism in the UK

Presenteeism is estimated to cost the UK economy £15.1 billion every year, making it nearly double the cost of absenteeism – Work Mind, 2019.

Research has found that a staggering 80% of employees in the UK regularly choose to work when they are sick. 

And throw any preconceived ideas you may have about lazy youngsters out of the window because presenteeism is most common in young people. 92% of 18 – 24 year-olds admit to attending work when they should be tucked up in bed. – CIPD, 2018.


Presenteeism is a huge and complex issue for business leaders here in the UK. As an employer, there is clearly an implication on the health and wellbeing of your workforce if individual members are coming to work when they are not fit and well. But there are also serious impacts on the company’s outputs, productivity, and performance that need to be understood and mitigated. 

Before we go any deeper, let’s take a moment to articulate all that the term presenteeism encompasses in 2019.  


What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism, in the broadest sense of the word, is the issue of people turning up to work when they are not fully able to perform their role. This can be due to a short or long term illness, or more complex issues regarding their relationship with the organisation which affects their motivation, engagement, and even crosses into wider personal problems that are completely unrelated to work but ultimately affects their performance.

Previously, the accepted understanding of presenteeism was more rigidly focused on individuals coming to work whilst unwell. The implications on an organisation experiencing presenteeism under that earlier definition were therefore focussed on the potential spread of illness across the workforce, and the disruption to productivity and workflow that entails. 

In 2019, presenteeism is widely accepted to be more complex and encompasses many more behaviours than this earlier definition allows for. The term now covers situations where individuals are not able to hit acceptable productivity rates due to stress, anxiety and other mental health issues, personal problems and even poor engagement from the individual towards their team, manager or the organisation overall. 


Presenteeism is a growing concern for UK business leaders

With rates of presenteeism more than tripled in 2018 from rates in 2010, the issue is a growing concern for UK business leaders. 

Presenteeism only shows signs of further intensifying in the UK, new behaviour trends are emerging where individuals are opting to use their annual leave to work. This is called ‘leaveism’ and is not unsurprisingly linked to an increase in stress, anxiety, and depression from work pressures.  

Stress, anxiety and mental health problems, in particular, are a huge contributor to presenteeism in the UK. The CIPD’s 2018 survey into health and wellbeing at work found a clear link between people going to work when ill and increases in stress, anxiety, and depression. The same survey found that mental health conditions and stress-related absences are among the top causes of long-term sickness absence.  

We can quite easily see that presenteeism not only has a short term impact on an organisation through reduced performance but that presenteeism can lead to long term absences and therefore bigger cost and performance issues for organisations.


What you can do as an employer to remove presenteeism from your organisation

Fundamentally, any employer experiencing presenteeism needs to examine their workplace culture and work towards improving that culture to engage, motivate and support its people. 

Research has shown that an engaged workforce is linked to productivity, profitability and higher staff retention rates. 

Crafting a workplace culture which your people align with, and making it a place where it is acceptable for people to choose not to come to work when they are sick is key to seeing long term improvements. 

The leading reason cited by UK employees for coming into work when they shouldn’t is that they don’t want to let their team down, and the second reason was pressure from their employer. This research suggests that many workplaces in the UK do not encourage people to take the time they need to recoup. 

There are a number of proactive and reactive measures you can take to build a healthy workplace culture that supports its people and ultimately benefits from increased productivity. 


See our separate article, 3 Methods to Tackle Presenteeism in your Organisation for actionable advice. 


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