Presenteeism vs. Absenteeism in the Workplace: Unraveling the Hidden Impact

In today’s ever-evolving corporate landscape, the well-being and productivity of employees have become paramount concerns for organisations. Two major challenges that often plague workplaces are presenteeism and absenteeism, both impacting an individual’s health and business performance, making it essential to address these issues for a thriving work environment.

A 2019 survey revealed that employers are losing on average 38 productive days per employee per year, due to absence or presenteeism (RAND Europe, 2019). It’s disheartening to know that 4 out of 5 people are no longer engaged at work, with nearly six in 10 employees experiencing “quiet quitting”. Combining this with actively disengaged employees, low engagement costs the global economy a staggering $8.8 trillion dollars (Gallup State of the Global Workplace, 2023).

Fortunately, we now have encouraging data showcasing the positive impact of investing in employee well-being. Employers who prioritise their people’s well-being and healthier lifestyles witness 25 more days of productivity per year per employee. Research from Erasmus University Rotterdam, the University of Oxford, and MIT demonstrated that just feeling better by one point on a scale from zero to 10 resulted in a 12% increase in weekly sales, again illustrating the link between well-being and productivity.
So, let’s look into these issues:

1. Absenteeism:

Absenteeism refers to the practice of employees consistently taking time off work, whether due to sickness, personal reasons, or other circumstances. We understand that occasional absences are a natural part of life, but excessive absenteeism can have significant repercussions for both employees and the organisation. It is important to recognise that your absenteeism rate can be measured against an individual, a team, or the overall business. A rate above 4% may be deemed a high absence rate, while the healthy absence rate is 1.8%. Anything below that may signal a problem as employees may feel afraid to call in sick or take time off.
Research by Johns Hopkins University found that absenteeism can lead to increased stress levels among remaining employees, reduced team cohesion, and diminished productivity.

Moreover, absenteeism may indicate underlying issues such as dissatisfaction with the work environment, lack of engagement, or even burnout. There is a substantial impact of absenteeism on an organisation’s bottom line, with costs attributed to lost productivity, hiring temporary replacements, and reduced team morale. For instance, in the UK alone, workplace absence is costing the economy a staggering £18 billion in lost productivity each year, with an upward trend since 2011 (FirstCare, 2019).

2. Presenteeism:

Presenteeism occurs when employees show up for work despite being unwell or experiencing personal issues that hinder their ability to perform at their best. Although dedication is shown by individuals who are present but not feeling their best, research suggests that presenteeism can be a silent productivity killer, leading to reduced focus, lower work quality, and an increased likelihood of making mistakes.

Employees engaging in presenteeism may be physically present, but their diminished performance can have far-reaching consequences. The stress of feeling obligated to be at work while unwell or mentally preoccupied can exacerbate health issues and prolong recovery times, leading to long-term absenteeism down the line, as well as the impact it can have on the individual who is suffering.

Now, let’s explore the root causes:

Both issues often stem from similar root causes, such as:

a) Workplace Culture: An unsupportive work culture that discourages time off can increase both absenteeism and presenteeism.

b) Job Satisfaction: Dissatisfied employees are more likely to be absent or perform poorly when present.

c) Mental Health: Poor mental health can lead to both absenteeism and presenteeism as individuals struggle to cope with stressors.

d) Workload and Burnout: Heavy workloads and burnout can drive employees to take frequent leaves or attempt to work while unwell, compromising work quality.

So, what can we do?

At HumanOS, we emphasise creating a holistic approach to corporate well-being that addresses the root causes of presenteeism and absenteeism:

a) Helping Clients Create a Supportive and Safe Work Environment: Nurturing a culture that prioritises employee well-being, encourages open communication, and normalises taking time off for recovery.

b) Mental Health Support: Implementing strategies to destigmatise mental health issues and provide access to timely support and the correct specialists.

c) Flexibility and Work-Life Balance: Creating personalised data insights for organisations and strategies designed for flexible working arrangements that suit both them and their individuals.

d) Engagement Initiatives: Engaging employees through development programs, team-building, recognition, and other well-being services.

It is important to recognise presenteeism and absenteeism are two sides of the same coin, addressing their root causes can foster a healthier work environment that promotes individual well-being and organisational success.

If you want to see the HumanOS Approach for Individuals and access our practical tips to reduce presenteeism and absenteeism in your life, sign up for our newsletter here:

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We are here to help our clients move towards a future of enhanced productivity and happier, more engaged Humans. If you would like our help, get in contact with me at

Warm regards,
Bianca, Co-Founder of HumanOS