Career and Workplace

Struggling At Work? | Absenteeism & Presenteeism

Monday morning rolls around and you are experiencing a mild to moderate fever — somewhere between 38-to-40°C. Are you:

A. Calling in sick, or;
B. Working through it despite not being as productive as usual? 

Absenteeism (taking unscheduled leave from work) and presenteeism (showing up for work but not being able to engage) are common phenomena that affect employees. Both cause trouble to companies as they increase cost and hamper productivity. It is therefore important to understand exactly why they happen and how workplace wellness, company culture, and morale can make a difference.

What is absenteeism?

Absenteeism is easier to quantify than presenteeism as it is easy to see employees who habitually take leave without good reason. Absenteeism rates tend to go up the more disengaged employees are, and absenteeism rates go down when managers put into place a strong absence policy and efficient attendance tracking.

Depression, bullying (harassment at work), burnout, caring for dependents (children or elderly), or feeling bored with the work at hand are some causes of absenteeism. For example, person A is frequently ill and often feels overwhelmed by work and his colleagues so he regularly calls in sick. He could be coping with depression, a chronic condition such as diabetes, or burnout. Person B, on the other hand, has a child with a health condition and often takes unscheduled leave to look after the child.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism, on the other hand, is much more difficult to quantify. It occurs when employees come to work and they’re physically there, but once in the office, they’re not productive. Presenteeism is more likely to occur when employees are suffering from heavy workloads or don’t feel secure at work. Other reasons for presenteeism include running out of sick days, staff shortages, or when employees handle most of the work or the responsibility on their team leading them to feel that they are unable to take any time off, even when they genuinely need to.

An example of this is when Person C, as the most experienced person on her team, is reluctant to let any of her teammates take over her projects, despite having Covid, or when Person D is afraid of losing his job to someone younger than he is.

How do absenteeism and presenteeism affect organisations?

When employees don't show up, their colleagues have to do extra work. When they do show up but aren't able to concentrate, they make mistakes or leave assignments undone. In both cases, overall productivity falls and other people ultimately have to pick up the slack. This drives up the cost for employers.

In fact, presenteeism appears to be a much costlier problem than absenteeism. And, unlike absenteeism, presenteeism isn’t always apparent: you know when someone doesn’t show up for work, but you can’t always tell when or how illness or a medical condition is hindering someone’s performance.

So, what can be done about it?

It’s a fine line for companies to balance on. Countering absenteeism requires stricter policies e.g. monitoring absences, requiring medical certificates as evidence, etc. whereas addressing presenteeism might mean completely overhauling the company culture and placing more emphasis on wellness.

Improving productivity by taking care of employee health involves relatively low-cost education programs i.e. spending to save. With Naluri, members are able to communicate with a team of healthcare professionals including clinical psychologists, pharmacists, medical advisors, dietitians, fitness trainers, and more via asynchronous chat. While it is not a substitute for medical care, it offers additional support to employees who may be coping with mental health and chronic conditions.

Written by:
Chloe Pharamond