How Presenteeism and Absenteeism Affect Your Workplace

Andrew Buck's avatar Andrew Buck July 3, 2023

Presenteeism and absenteeism are similar conditions, seemingly on the opposite end of the spectrum, but very closely related. Each has a big impact on workplace productivity, employee engagement and company culture, and is in a company’s best interest to reduce.

There’s a lot of misinformation and misunderstandings around both conditions – more so absenteeism, but also presenteeism as it becomes more well-known in mainstream consciousness. We’re going to clear everything up in this article, and share all you need to know about each condition and how they relate to each other.

Related: 11 Tips on Reducing Absenteeism in the Workplace

Presenteeism vs Absenteeism

Let’s explain the difference between these two workplace conditions.

Absenteeism is when an employee is regularly absent from work, outside of scheduled absences like annual leave/vacation and regularly scheduled days off. This may include excessive sickness-related absences, no-shows and lateness.

Presenteeism is when an employee is present at work too often, to the detriment of their productivity. It usually occurs when an employee comes in to work despite being sick or injured, or works for too long without taking time off (such as annual leave).

Each condition come with serious direct and indirect costs, in terms of quantifiable costs related to productivity and turnover, as well as negative effects on employee engagement and company culture that are harder to quantify.

Further Reading: Over half of US employees don’t use all their PTO – find out why this is a problem, and what to do about it.

The Impact of Absenteeism

Let’s look first at the impact absenteeism has on a business.

In terms of quantifiable cost, absenteeism is believed to cost businesses between $2,500 and $4,000 per employee per year.

This is what companies have to pay for sick leave, lost productivity, replacement staff, increased administrative and management burden and more due to unexpected, unscheduled absences.

It’s very difficult to put an exact figure on the cost of absenteeism, though, particularly when you consider other ways in which it affects a business, such as:

Even the figures quoted for lost productivity are very arbitrary.

What is clear is that excessive absenteeism comes with a cost, and it’s worth it for businesses to dedicate resources towards reducing it.

The Impact of Presenteeism

Presenteeism also has much-quoted statistics on its cost – Harvard Business Review claims it costs US businesses a total of $150 billion per year.

Another claims that presenteeism costs more than 38 days in productive time to a business each year on average.

Yet any figures for the cost of presenteeism are likely to be even more arbitrary than those of absenteeism. That’s because the real impact of presenteeism is hard to notice and harder to quantify.

The effects of presenteeism can be as follows:

Presenteeism can also lead to absenteeism. You may have one employee who exhibits presenteeism for some time, which leads to health issues, job burnout and/or low engagement, which in turn leads to the employee becoming an example of absenteeism.

Thus you may end up experiencing the negative effects of both conditions, one after the other, which is why it’s important to treat them together.

Further Reading: A data-driven list of the best Employee Wellbeing Initiatives

Which is Worse: Absenteeism or Presenteeism?

Both conditions have a negative impact on a business and the individuals working in that business. It’s hard to say that one is worse than the other, and indeed there’s no need to say as much.

Many of the most effective strategies for reducing absenteeism and presenteeism are the same, so it’s not necessary to choose one condition and put your energy solely towards reducing that problem.

How Reducing Presenteeism and Absenteeism Boosts Productivity

By cutting down these two issues, you should see a number of positive effects in your workplace.

One thing to remember is that you should always take reductions of presenteeism and absenteeism in context.

Don’t simply look at an increased absence rate and say “we’ve fixed presenteeism”, or a declining absence rate and say “we’ve fixed absenteeism”. This can obviously get contradictory and send you in circles.

Look at your absence rate, but also ask yourself – are employees taking a reasonable amount of time off when they need it? Are employees forcing themselves to work when they’re not well? Is your absence rate significantly above or below average? How is your company culture?

In most companies it takes a nuanced approach to really tell if you’re healthily avoiding absenteeism and presenteeism.

How to Reduce Absenteeism and Presenteeism

A lot of what you can do to prevent and reduce absenteeism and presenteeism is the same. This includes the following:

For both presenteeism and absenteeism you want to make sure employees have a balanced workload (not too much but enough to make them feel stimulated and engaged), and ensure they have the opportunity to take time off to refresh and recharge when needed. Helping and encouraging employees to maintain a positive work-life balance helps as well.

To know where your absence rates stand (whether you’re significantly above or below average), and to identify issues early before they get out of control, make sure you track vacation time and absences using a leave management software.

This will help you cut down unexpected, unscheduled absences, and also ensure that your team members are taking enough annual leave/vacation, and not burning themselves out.

The great thing is that, as you improve one area, the other will get better too. Presenteeism can lead to absenteeism, and absenteeism can lead to employees overcompensating and working too much without taking time off.

Finding a healthy balance between the two is the key to building a healthy, positive and productive workplace.

Andrew Buck's avatar

Andrew Buck

Andrew is the content manager at Flamingo. He has managed teams in multiple industries, for both physical and remote businesses, and has experience dealing with the ins and outs of HR and leave management on a daily basis.

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