Demystifying absenteeism and presenteeism

A quick summary:

Absenteeism and presenteeism. Two words forever haunting HR professionals in the workplace. Although, it doesn’t have to be that way. 👀

Through small changes here and there, leaders can quickly transform absent employees into amazing employees. 

We’ve explored both terms in more detail, along with ways to alleviate these hurdles and build stronger teams for the future. 💪

Spoiler alert: Employee wellbeing and better benefits go a very long way for both presenteeism and absenteeism.  


First and foremost, what does presenteeism even mean? Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘presenteeism’ as the following: 

“the act of staying at work longer than usual, or going to work when you are ill, to show that you work hard and are important to your employer”

In other words, presenteeism occurs when people feel obliged to be at work, despite being unfit to work for one reason or another. 🤒

When this happens, employees suffer from a lack of productivity and performance, which can impact their ability to carry out even the simplest of tasks. 

This lack of positive impact at work can also have a knock on effect for other colleagues and wider business results. 📉

Sometimes presenteeism isn’t all too obvious in people, but this is where good managers and great leaders are different. 

Have you ever confronted an employee about their performance and productivity, from the angle of their personal wellbeing and mental health? 

This sympathetic approach to your performance concerns suggests a much higher emotional intelligence. 🧠

Not only that, but you’ll receive an honest and genuine response from people; one without defensiveness or false excuses. 💚

Besides asking people, here are a few other symptoms and red flags to look out for: 

❌  Mistakes have become commonplace for an employee

❌  An employee exhibits symptoms of being clearly too unhealthy to work

❌  Disregard for the quality of one’s work and lack of care for results

❌  Suffering from exhaustion and tiredness in the workplace

These are just some of the signs managers and leaders should look out for. And do so with compassion, if they are serious about eliminating presenteeism. 🔎

Now that we understand what presenteeism is precisely, including the red flags leaders should monitor, what are the various ways to improve presenteeism in your workplace?   

How to reduce presenteeism 

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again! Eliminating presenteeism starts with sympathy, and the desire to understand instead of attack. 🤚

In fact, you could go as far as to say, it’s how well leaders deal with issues of presenteeism that really quashes the problem. 

Similar read: Understanding leavism in the workplace

Employee wellbeing benefits 🧘‍♂️

Above all other strategies for presenteeism, we believe a robust employee wellbeing programme is the best remedy for presenteeism. 💊

Whether that’s Wellbeing Wednesdays, team building initiatives or subsidised gym and fitness classes. 🏋️‍♀️

It’s wellbeing benefits like this that support healthier and happier people, both in and outside of the workplace. 

After all, presenteeism can be the result of employee burnout, parental burnout, or just everyday stress and anxiety - we can never assume. 🤚

Take a deep dive into your current employee turnover rates, run a burnout and job satisfaction survey, and analyse existing employee wellbeing benefits.

These results should arm you with all the answers you need. As for any existing employee benefits, do they include healthcare? If not, add it to your to-do list ASAP. 📋 

Stamp out a toxic environment ☢️

For a lot of cases of presenteeism, it can be the reflection of a toxic organisational culture. In the weak performance and productivity of employees, leaders should see the attitudes they’ve instilled in their team staring right back at them.

Unfortunately, a lot of companies have an unwritten rule of never taking time away from work, whether for leisure or personal reasons. 

This creates an enormous presenteeism issue, as employees continue sitting down at their desks each day to achieve very little. 

Leaders of this nature fail to recognise that well-rested employees are empowered to be their best and to produce great work. 

Remember to encourage your team to take the annual leave they rightly deserve, and always ask if they’re doing okay. This approach takes a toxic culture and turns it into a wellbeing culture. 

Review your team’s workload 🗄

It’s not uncommon for us to feel overwhelmed with work commitments from time to time. That’s just part and parcel of working life. 

However, a lot of people have a tremendously difficult job of managing workloads better suited to more than one person. 

It’s this magnitude of work that can drive unhappy employees, and weaken productivity and performance. 

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to ensure workloads don’t burden your team and spark an incline in presenteeism amongst employees. 

Make the effort to check in with employees; ask how they are doing, and how they feel about their current workloads. 👋

These questions, along with the red flags mentioned above, will give you a good idea of any growing concerns for presenteeism. 🤔


Moving on to absenteeism, Cambridge Dictionary describes absenteeism with the following definition: 

“A situation in which people are not at school or work when they should be”

Absenteeism occurs when employees are absent from work without good reason - with emphasis on the without good reason part.

Often costly for employers, and an immediate cause for concern, absenteeism occurs for employees for the following reasons:

🤒  Currently searching for another job

🤒  Experiencing workplace bullying or harassment 

🤒  Problems with commuting to the office

🤒  Conflict with other colleagues and managers

Like presenteeism, absenteeism should also be dealt with cautiously and with sympathy from leaders, if they are to bring people back into the workplace.

How to reduce absenteeism

Now that we understand exactly what absenteeism means, below, you’ll find our top three most impactful ways to reduce absenteeism in your team. 

Measure absences for patterns of absenteeism

Starting with general analysis, take a closer look at employee absence over the past three, six or twelve months - do you spot any patterns forming? Regular use of excuses? 🤔

While you should approach both absenteeism and presenteeism with compassion and care, if you do intend on acting out formal disciplinary procedures, you will need to prove it to be true.

Ask your HR team for closer monitoring of employee absence, if you fear absenteeism is a growing issue; alternatively, there is absence management software out there to assist you.

Offer different working arrangements 

In a post-pandemic world, hybrid and remote working continues to flourish across tech-driven industries. And many companies, both big and small are jumping on the bandwagon. 

If employees are struggling on their return to the office, or they have other problems with the workplace environment, offering a hybrid working model could be the answer to quash absenteeism. 

Eliminating absenteeism or presenteeism starts with better wellbeing in the workplace. If you have a team of twenty employees, all unhappy with permanent office-based work, there’s your answer. 

Struggling to return your team to the office? Take a look at our ‘Returning to the Office’ survey, with 15 questions on employee wellbeing, job satisfaction, and organisational culture. 

Our survey helps leaders create a plan for returning to the office, including five pages of actionable insights to navigate these difficult times. 

Better Wellbeing at Work

Just like presenteeism, absenteeism is often the result of unhappy employees. Unsurprisingly, your first option should always be to improve employee wellbeing. 

Healthier, happier teams are excited about work and make every effort to be present, productive, and perform to their full potential. 💪

Take a look at your current wellbeing initiatives, and see what can be improved. In many cases, fewer sick days are the result of how well we look after our mental and physical health. 🏥

Remember, absenteeism is absence without good reason. Find out why employees are struggling to attend work, and offer the right support. 🤝

It’s only when companies put people first, will they see absenteeism and presenteeism diminish. Pushing employees out of their role is a reflection of the current state of wellbeing at work. 

How Heka helps improve employee wellbeing

Now that we know the important role of wellbeing at work in relation to absenteeism and presenteeism, how can Heka help improve employee wellbeing?

Through a series of questions, Heka learns exactly what does and doesn’t work for the wellbeing of its users. 

It’s Heka’s mission to suggest experiences, products and services users will love to build a healthier, happier lifestyle.

Once Heka gets to know you, you will be able to choose from life coaching, spa treatments, healthy food subscriptions, on-site fitness classes, virtual yoga sessions and so much more.

There really is something for everyone in your team. That’s the beauty of our employee wellbeing platform.

Take a look around and get to know Heka, before booking a demo with one of our wellbeing experts! 

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