Skip to main content
Report this ad

Presenteeism at Work: Hidden Costs

We all know about the impact of absenteeism on the workplace and productivity. But have you heard about presenteeism? Presenteeism is a term used to describe people who show up to work, but do not perform to their capacity.

Presenteeism was first used by Dr. Cary Cooper, an organizational psychology and health professor at Manchester University in the UK to describe the overwork and feelings of job insecurity resulting from downsizing and restructuring in the 1990s. When they feel at risk of losing their job, employees feel an overwhelming need to be putting in more hours, or at least appear to be working long hours.

Perhaps you have an employee or a colleague who continually shows up to work coughing and sneezing and spreading their germs. This is another form of presenteeism. Employees who come to work despite illnesses (asthma, migraines, back troubles, depression) are less productivity and may even cause a colleague to get sick. A study completed by Desjardins Financial Security indicated that 42% or Canadian workers went to work sick or exhausted at least once in 2007. Why? Concern about looming deadlines, workload pile-up, overloading colleagues and loss of income. In many organizations, missing work is frowned upon.

Presenteeism is also related to a lack of engagement. Employees who are moderately engaged in or actively disengaged from their work show up, but do not produce. This has a significant impact on morale and productivity. Towers Perrin found that companies with the highest level of employee engagement achieve better financial results and are more successful in keeping their valued employees than those companies with lower levels of engagement. The reverse is also true.

Presenteeism is more common in tough economic times and when unemployment is high, likely because people are afraid to lose their jobs. A long-term study showed that absenteeism declines as unemployment rates increase, while presenteeism increases. Even though employees may be dissatisfied with their jobs and lack commitment to their organization, they will show up if they fear that they will lose their job. This doesn’t mean that they will work.

Researchers say that presenteeism can cut productivity by one-third or more. In fact, presenteeism has been shown to be more costly than its cousin absenteeism or disability. Some researchers believe that the cost of presenteeism could be around 7-9 times more than that of absenteeism.

It is time to rethink work. Rather than cutting back, forward thinking employers are spending to save. They know that employees want to be engaged. They want to feel good about the work they do and the contribution they make. They want to work for a secure organization that allows them to grow and develop a career. They want to work for an employer that they can feel good about. Forward thinking companies are helping employees become engaged.

How do you engage employees?
Help employees discover spirit at work. We have found that employees can develop spirit at work and become fully engaged in their work simply by rethinking their work – which by the way is the title of my book. Here are some ideas to get you started:

o Get to the heart of what matters about your work. Be clear about what you are here for, who you are serving and the real point of your work. Connect to the deeper purpose of your work.

o Appreciate who you are and the contribution you (and your colleagues) make through work.

o See your work as an act of service. Who are you serving and why? How can you best help your client, customer or patient? After all, it is about them, not us.

o Refill your cup. Manage your energy. Take time to replenish and rejuvenate.

The responsibility for fostering spirit at work is shared between the employee and the employer. While several organizational conditions contribute to or impede spirit at work, we have found that the key is inspired leadership. It is the leader who sets the tone, creates the culture, inspires the vision and purpose, and recognizes the contribution of employees. More about this in another article.

I work with employees and organizations to cultivate spirit at work and we have found that work attitudes improve, absenteeism and turnover go down, and as you would expect, presenteeism also decreases. Start rethinking your work today for a better tomorrow.

Want to learn more? Sign up for our monthly newsletter where we will explore this topic in more detail. Read the book Rethinking Your Work and learn how to create spirit at work.

Val Kinjerski, PhD, is a leading authority in the field of employee engagement and on the topic of “spirit at work.” A consultant, agent of change and professional speaker, she helps companies and organizations increase employee retention and boost productivity by reigniting employees’ love for their work. Check out her Spirit at Work Program and Inspired Leadership training at Val is the author of Rethinking Your Work and Rethinking Your Work Guidebook. Available now at


Report this ad