Absenteeism and presenteeism are two complex issues facing workplaces of all shapes and sizes.

Though they are both different, they both share similarities in their effects on employee productivity. It’s estimated that on average, businesses lose billions of pounds annually due to the cost of absenteeism and presenteeism. 

Understanding and talking about absenteeism and presenteeism, what they are and why they’re happening can open up wider conversions about the health of the workplace and its culture, which has the potential to result in positive change.

Below, we’ll define both absenteeism and presenteeism and list some easy ways that workplaces of all sizes can begin to manage both the issues.

What is Absenteeism?

Absenteeism refers to the practice of an employee regularly being absent from work. Reasons for their absence can vary, but the main identifier of absenteeism is if the employee has a disproportionately high absence rate.

Reasons behind absenteeism can vary from familial pressures such as caring for an elderly relative or child, to indications that a member of staff may be struggling with their mental or physical health. Absenteeism can also present when a person feels dissatisfied, overworked or stressed with their job. Organisations with a high rate of disengaged employees tend to have high levels of absenteeism.

Potential risk factors for absenteeism

  • Lack of absence record. If your business does not have an absence management system in place, consider implementing one now. It will make things much easier when it comes to keeping track of absence records.
  • Repetitive responsibilities: Studies show that employees whose work involves repetitive tasks are more prone to absenteeism. Encourage team leaders to rotate employees through different types of assignments in order to help maintain interest levels and productivity.
  • An unhealthy work environment: One way to help manage stress at work is by communicating effectively, and distributing the workload. Managers can help their employees better communicate by providing an open, honest environment.

Read more: How to Improve Mental Health in the Workplace

What is Presenteeism?

Presenteeism can be more difficult to identify than absenteeism because it is almost the polar opposite. Presenteeism is when employees are physically present at work, but they’re not productive when they are there, which can be harder to spot.

Presenteeism can occur when an employee feels overwhelmed by their workload, or is affected by pressures caused by an unhealthy workplace environment or culture. 

Ambitious employees may also fall prey to presenteeism, especially if they are trying to climb the ladder and take on too much work..

Identifying factors of presenteeism

  • Rises in the level of mistakes: Someone suffering from presenteeism may make more mistakes than usual due to an increased, and unsustainable workload.
  • Decrease in the quality of work: This may be accompanied by apathy toward a piece of work, and lack of pride.
  • Working excessively long hours: The employee may appear to work long hours, but fail to produce a quantity of work that is suggestive of having worked the time period.
  • Working while unwell: Depending on the ailment this may not be initially easy to spot, but an employee having obvious symptoms of illness like coughs or sneezes, but still continuing to work, could be an indicator. 
  • Appearing fatigued. An employee may also present with poor appearance and personal grooming.
  • Erratic or unstable mood: Mood swings, low mood or sudden bursts of aggression or tearfulness as well as deteriorating relationships with colleagues can be an indicator of declining mental wellbeing caused by overwork or presenteeism. 

Find out more about how mental ill-health may present in the workplace here.

How to Manage Absenteeism and Presenteeism in the Workplace

To manage absenteeism and presenteeism, organisations must adapt different preventative techniques.

High absenteeism rates tend to decline when management teams put into place strong absence policies and deploy efficient ways to monitor absences. This can open the door for sensitive conversations to take place between team leaders and employees as to why there is an increase in absence.

On the other hand, open, communicative management that is able to promote well-being in the workplace can help tackle presenteeism because it reassures employees that they can talk about any concerns or worries, whether around their workloads or aspirations. 

Other ways to manage absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace include:

For absenteeism:

  1. Ensure employees understand the effect of absenteeism

Absenteeism can cost businesses a lot of money. Not only that, but it also impacts the workload and wellbeing of other employees who will be forced to take on additional work to cover their missing colleagues. 

  1. Implement flexible leave and working policies

Organisations who have taken a flexible approach to things like paid leave, working hours and working arrangements have been proven to have lower absenteeism rates.

This is because employees can achieve a better work/life balance where they are not overwhelmed in one particular area  and allows people to juggle things such as school pick-ups or drop-offs, or perhaps having to care for a child or relative.

  1. Improve workplace culture and morale

Improving workplace culture can be simple things like showing appreciation for employees’ work, openly praising contributions and initiating reward schemes through things like employee assistance programmes can make all the difference. When employees feel valued they’re more motivated to help the organisation, and will therefore improve their attendance.

For presenteeism

  1. Promote a good work/life balance

Presenteeism can occur when employees either feel overwhelmed by copious amounts of work, or when they are trying to be overly ambitious. 

To alleviate this, team leaders and managers should promote work/life balance, and encourage employees to stop working once they have left the office, or once their hours for that day have been completed.

  1. Implement and emphasise clear mental health/sick day policies

If an organisation doesn’t have a clear or sufficient sick day policy, employees will feel under more pressure to attend work when they’re not feeling well. 

In office environments this is problematic because an employee could spread an illness to other members of staff, leading to increased time off across multiple departments. 

Mental health days are a new (and welcome) introduction to sick day policies, so ensure that your business can implement days for both physical and mental ill-health where possible, and encourage employees to use these when necessary without judgement.

  1. Encourage employees’ health and wellness

Encouraging employees’ health and wellness must be a genuine commitment. An organisation which cares about its people will promote a good sick day policy and will also look for ways to support employees where possible. 

Whether that’s additional leisure time, such as with reduced gym memberships, or whether it’s by implementing an EAP to unify teams, provide rewarding incentives and promote an overall culture of care for the wellbeing of their staff.

Finally, there’s Mental Health First Aid Training

Mental Health First Aid Training is imperative for workplaces who want to actively take measures to manage their absenteeism and presenteeism rates. Mental Health First Aid training equips employees with the skills and training they need to be able to identify fellow colleagues who may be beginning to struggle with mental ill-health. First Aiders can step in and confidentially discuss matters with peers, whilst signposting them to the correct support in order to mitigate the problem before it becomes a serious issue.
At Great Minds at Work we help to support organisations of all sizes to adopt healthy working environments, and create cultures that promote wellbeing through the use of Mental Health First Aid Training and bespoke guidance. To find out more about what we do, click here, or to speak to us today about transforming your organisation book a call with us here.