Presenteeism – An Unseen Cost to Employers

​“Presenteeism” has not been part of our vernacular for long. Some readers may not have even heard this term. Presenteeism describes the measure of lost productivity due to employees being at work not fully engaged because of personal health, family, or life issues. This shows up in the workplace most often as the employee coming to work as sick as a dog, but can also include employees distracted by issues like elder care.

Unlike absenteeism, presenteeism often goes unrecognized. This is likely an oversight because studies indicate that presenteeism may be just as costly. A Cornell University study found that presenteeism was responsible for 61percent of an employee’s lost productivity and medical costs. Presenteeism has been estimated to cost employers approximately $2,000 per employee, per year. In the aggregate, estimates of the cost to employers of employees working at diminished capacity range from $150 to 250 billion per year. Looking at the numbers, employers may come to realize that it can be better for employees who are too ill or too distracted to work to stay home.
What can employers do about presenteeism?
  • Let employees know that your door is open to hear about their problems. That is not to say that you will take on and solve these problems. But if you are aware, you can evaluate what you can do like providing leave or directing employees to other resources.
  • Encourage sick or distraught workers to stay home and get appropriate medical or other professional attention before returning to work.  Many employees may come to work out of loyalty or fear of falling behind. Let them know when it is OK to be out.
    Send employees home if they come to work ill.  Ill employees may infect others exacerbating the problem.
  • Review absence and time off policies to make sure they are not counterproductive. Are you inadvertently encouraging presenteeism by having no or too little leave available or by penalizing workers too harshly? Many employees come to work to avoid discipline or to preserve sick time for a child’s illness.
  • Invest in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).  EAPs offer assistance on a wide range of personal and health issues. And, participation is voluntary and confidential.
    Invest in wellness programs and other preventative measures such as offering annual flu vaccinations.

Presenteeism drains company resources.  Employers benefit from taking steps to combat it and move towards having healthy and highly functioning employees.