How to Prevent Presenteeism in the Workplace

  • Employee Conduct
How to Prevent Presenteeism in the Workplace
Kiljon Shukullari

Kiljon Shukullari, HR Advisory Manager

(Last updated )

There is no doubt that absenteeism—frequent, unplanned staff absences without cause—is bad for your business. But what most employers often don’t realize is that the opposite can also be just as harmful to your bottom line.

Presenteeism is a term used to describe a phenomenon where employees come to work even when they are unwell, resulting in lower productivity, reduced job satisfaction, and increased risk of injury or illness.

In Canada, the issue is becoming increasingly common and poses a significant challenge to employers. In 2021, a report found that 16% of working hours equivalent to 41.2 days were lost due to absences and presenteeism.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism is when your staff is always present at work even when they are sick or beyond their contracted hours.

Other examples of such behaviour include working on the weekends, being available on vacation, replying to work emails late into the night, etc.

 How is presenteeism bad for my business?

Overwork can cause your employees to feel mentally and physically exhausted and lower their productivity over the long term.

Additionally, when sick employees don’t stay home, they may infect others in the workplace. Besides affecting employee health, though, presenteeism can also reduce the quality of work, as a tired or overworked employee is prone to make more mistakes.

When left unchecked or rewarded, presenteeism can also influence other employees to also put in long hours, leading to resentment among your staff and unhealthy work culture.

What are the causes of presenteeism?

One of the key steps in tackling presenteeism is to understand its causes. Presenteeism can be caused by a range of factors, including:

Job insecurity

Employees may feel that taking time off when they are unwell could get them fired. This fear can push employees to come to work even when they are unwell.

Financial reasons

Some employees may be concerned about losing pay if they take time off when they are sick. This is particularly true in workplaces where employers do not offer paid sick leave.

Company culture

Some companies have a culture where employees are expected to work long hours and take minimal time off. This can lead to employees feeling pressured to come to work even when they are not feeling up to it.

Mental health issues

Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, can also lead to presenteeism. Employees may feel that they are unable to take time off due to the stigma surrounding mental health.

Lack of support

Employees may feel that they do not have the necessary support from their employer or colleagues to take time off when they are unwell.

What are the signs of presenteeism to watch out for?

Some common signs indicative of presenteeism include:

  • Decrease in productivity
  • Low-quality work
  • Skipping lunch breaks
  • Turning up for work when sick
  • Making frequent errors
  • Working overtime
  • Looking tired/irritable

How can I check presenteeism at work?

We recommend the following measures:

Train managers to spot signs

Ensure your managers are trained on spotting the issue and on sensitively engaging with employees who may be struggling. You need to understand the reason behind presenteeism to be able to help your employee. If you have staff who may be struggling with mental health, connect them to available resources, such as your company’s Employee Assistance Program.

Check-in with staff regularly

Daily or weekly team catch-ups will help you notice if an employee is overexerting themself or struggling with their workload. If you see that an employee is sick, you can ask them to leave for the day and get some rest.

How do I prevent presenteeism in the workplace?

Develop a comprehensive sick leave policy

One of the most effective ways to tackle presenteeism is to develop a comprehensive sick leave policy. This policy should clearly outline the process for employees to take time off when they are unwell, including the number of sick days they are entitled to, the process for reporting sick days, and the documentation required to support their absence.

In Canada, some provinces have implemented mandatory sick leave policies. For example, in Ontario, employees are entitled to up to three unpaid sick days per year. Employers can choose to provide additional paid sick days.

It is important for employers to communicate their sick leave policy clearly to all employees. This can be done through an employee handbook or by holding regular meetings with employees to discuss the policy.

Create a supportive workplace culture

Creating a supportive workplace culture is key to reducing presenteeism. Employers can do this by promoting work-life balance and encouraging employees to take time off when they are unwell.

Flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting and flexible schedules can also help reduce presenteeism. This can allow employees to work from home when they are unwell and reduce the risk of infection in the workplace.

Employers should also ensure that employees are aware of the support available to them. This can include an employee assistance program (EAP), which provides confidential counselling services to employees.

Educate employees on the risks of presenteeism

Educating employees on the risks of presenteeism is an important step in reducing its prevalence. Employers can do this by providing information on the potential risks of coming to work when unwell, including the risk of spreading illness to colleagues and reduced productivity.

Employers can also educate employees on the importance of taking time off when they are unwell. This can be done through regular communication, such as company-wide emails or posters in the workplace.

Encourage a healthy workplace

Encouraging a healthy workplace can also help reduce presenteeism. This can include providing healthy food options in the workplace, promoting physical activity, and providing resources for stress management.

Employers can also encourage employees to take regular breaks throughout the day. This can help reduce stress and increase productivity. It is also important for you to provide a safe working environment. This can include ensuring that employees have access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and that the workplace is free from hazards that could cause injury or illness.

Promote open communication

Encouraging open communication between employees and management can help reduce presenteeism. Employees should feel comfortable discussing their health concerns with their supervisor or HR department. This can help them to receive the support they need to take time off when they are unwell.

Employers can also conduct regular check-ins with employees to discuss any health concerns they may have. This can help to identify potential issues before they become more serious.

Be realistic about the workload

To prevent presenteeism in the workplace, it’s crucial to take steps that ensure employee well-being and productivity. One way to do this is by establishing realistic workloads and deadlines that promote accountability without causing burnout.

If your company has recently undergone staff layoffs due to financial constraints, it’s important to provide additional support to the remaining employees who may have taken on heavier workloads. By creating a supportive and manageable work environment, you can help prevent presenteeism and promote employee health and success.

Take action to reduce stress in the workplace

Stress is a significant contributor to presenteeism. Employers should take action to reduce stress in the workplace. This can include providing resources for stress management, such as an EAP, and promoting work-life balance. Employers can also provide training for employees on how to manage stress. This can help them identify signs of stress and develop strategies to manage it.

Monitor and address presenteeism

As an employer, you should monitor and address presenteeism on an ongoing basis. This can include tracking absenteeism rates, productivity levels, and employee engagement levels. If presenteeism is identified as an issue, employers should take action to address it, such as by providing additional support to employees or revising sick leave policies.

Do you need help creating an effective sick leave policy?

Presenteeism is a significant challenge for Canadian employers. However, by understanding its causes and taking proactive steps to address it, you can reduce its prevalence and create a healthier and more productive workplace.

If you need help developing an effective sick leave policy, our experts can help you develop company policies and with any HR or health and safety advice you may need. To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call us today: 1 (833) 247-3652

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