How To Spot a Presenteeism Culture in Your Workplace

Let’s be honest: we’ve all had days when we’ve gone into work when, in hindsight, we probably should have stayed at home.

Be it a lingering cold, a seasonal bout of flu or perhaps a painful minor physical injury; we’ve all at some point in our lives dragged ourselves out of bed, loaded up on painkillers and soldiered on into the office feeling like a hero.

It’s not just physical ailments, either. Many of us will have still made it into work even if our mental health has been under strain. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and we’d bet there have been times when you’ve gone into work feeling burnt out, overly anxious or even depressed.

The thing is though, is that whilst carrying on may seem like the right thing to do, it’s actually a complete fallacy. Think about it: When you’re suffering from a minor illness, under increased mental stress or physical injury, one of the most commonly given – and most effective - forms of advice is to rest up, try to relax and give your body and mind a chance to recover.

So, why do the vast majority of us still decide to head on into work when we’re unwell or simply not fit to work?

If this is a common experience for you, or perhaps work at a place where ‘soldiering on’ through illness and injury is common, it could be just one of the signs of a presenteeism culture.


With businesses under pressure to be productive and profitable, they need to have active, positive and productive workforces to support them reaching their targets.

It’s this need to keep productive and, to an extent be ‘needed’ which is a key driving force behind presenteeism in the workplace and why many people feel obliged to continue working when they should really be resting. But presenteeism is actually one of the biggest killers of productivity and positive company cultures – especially in larger businesses and public sector organisations.

Presenteeism isn’t a niche phenomenon or confined to a specific industry, though. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, over 83% of employees have observed presenteeism in their organisation, and a quarter (25%) said the problem had got worse since the previous year.

Given those statistics, it’s clear that the problem of presenteeism is potentially getting worse - and this really is bad news! Whilst having a full and working workforce may seem beneficial, as we mentioned earlier, a business that suffers from presenteeism can actually face far greater problems than just lower productivity, including:

With so many negative effects caused by an ever-present workforce, it’s in every organisation’s interests to manage presenteeism effectively; and spotting the warning signs is a great place to start.


First and foremost, our country’s attitude to sickness is a peculiar one. For instance, research by online recruiter CV Library found that over 52% of professionals felt ‘too guilty’ to take time off when they were genuinely ill, whilst one in five employees (24.1%) don’t like taking sick days as they believe it reflects badly on them.

Ask yourself: what are your colleagues’ reactions to illness in your workplace? Do they perhaps insinuate you’re just ‘taking a sickie’ or perhaps react negatively to absence and put pressure on people to work? If you’ve seen or experienced these types of behaviours, it can lead to a culture of presenteeism.

Every business needs to accept that illness is perfectly normal, and we’ll all most likely be hit by minor illnesses over the course of the year. You can mitigate this problem by encouraging people to work remotely from home if they’re not feeling well enough to travel or perhaps have those oh-so-common seasonal colds and flu.

Going further, introducing flexible working to reduce the amount of travelling your people need to do every day can have positive effects on both health and wellbeing.


Yup, if you’re business always seems to go through waves of illnesses or have employees constantly suffering from colds and minor bugs, it may down to people being in work spreading illnesses.

As we’ve recently seen with the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s essential that we all self-isolate if show symptoms and distance ourselves to prevent the spread of the disease. Whilst a common cold may not be as serious, the way it spreads is just as similar. So, if your people have a cold or flu-like symptoms, encourage them to work from home and not ‘battle their way into the office’ – martyrdom isn’t an option!

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Yes, we all have those days where it seems everyone in the business is needing something RIGHT THIS MINUTE!! But if your employees are constantly having to action last minute requests or working consistently longer just to complete their day’s work, it can lead to them being ever-present and simply burning out.

Like presenteeism, CV Library’s research found that employees working longer than their contracted hours is also on the rise – with nearly 12% of people working an extra 15 hours more than their contacted hours a week.

Whilst it’s of course important to ensure deadlines are met and your work is completed, it’s crucial to give back the time that your people may give up for your business. And never underestimate the power of a thank you, either!

Recognising your people for the hard work and effort they put in every day is critical to positive workplace cultures and happy working environments – so, if you know your employees have been burning the candle at both ends, make sure they're recognised or rewarded for their efforts.


If a business is going through a challenging period or perhaps just finding its’ feet, it may not be possible to employ everyone that you really need – after all, finances may only stretch so far!

However, if you have a workforce who are constantly juggling multiple responsibilities or having to take on additional workloads, it might trigger a whole heap of negative effects; including that presenteeism which sees them working for longer and longer hours.

While you may not be able to employee more people at the drop of a hat, keeping tabs on your people and letting them know where they stand with transparent communications is one way to help them through.

Also, give your employees a chance to feedback on things and come forward with ideas which can help the business. Long term, taking these types of actions are simple and effective ways to help your people love their jobs and reduce that productivity presenteeism, too.


Lastly, whilst we all live in a golden age of technology where you can reached just about anywhere in there world, always ‘being on call’ to work requests outside of working hours can be a sign of presenteeism.

Everyone needs time away for their work to relax and unwind; and of course, there may be those occasions when your people will need to deal with a request outside of normal working hours; but if they do, remember to give that time back to them!

A coveted ‘duvet day’ or morning off are inexpensive, simple and effective ways to maintain a healthy workplace culture and reduce presenteeism in your business.

To get started on your journey to increase your employees engagement, download our free Employee Satisfaction Survey and get to the core of what matters to your people.

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