The cost of presenteeism – and how to fix it

Presenteesim

Poor health takes USD $576 billion a year out of the US economy alone, according to data from the Integrated Benefits Institute. About 39 per cent is lost productivity from absence and presenteeism – defined as, “being present at work, but limited in some aspects of job performance by a health problem.

We don’t hear as much about presenteeism. Its impact is harder to quantify than absence due to sick days. But actually, it’s presenteeism that’s more costly to a business’s bottom line, according to Dr Olivia Sackett, Data Scientist at Virgin Pulse.

When she crunched the harder numbers, the results were staggering: “Our data shows that, on average, employees took about four sick days off each year,” she said. “But when they reported how many days they actually lost on the job, that number shot up to 57.5 days per year – per employee.”

That’s almost 12 working weeks – or one quarter of the entire year – that businesses are paying for employees who are present in body, but not in mind.

Dr David Batman, member of the Science Advisory Board at Virgin Pulse Institute, has been a medical practitioner for over 40 years. He is also a registered Consultant Specialist in Occupational Health with specialist knowledge of psychological health at work.

He says presenteeism is easy to spot if people managers look for the signs. “I preach a simple message – pay attention if you notice something has changed,” he advises. “I want managers to recognise that if something has changed – whether it’s at work or at home – there could be a problem.”

The good news is that the problem can be fixed. GCC Insights data from 2015 shows that the average employee gained the equivalent of 10 days ‘lost time’. How? With support from employers who prioritised a workplace culture that promotes health and happiness.

Find out how you can get results like these by downloading our free whitepaper, ‘Clocking on and checking out.’


[1] Paul Hemp. Presenteeism: At Work But Out of It. Harvard Business Review; 2004.
[2] Virgin Pulse Global Challenge data. Based on the responses of 1,872 participants who took our scientifically validated survey, benchmarked against the World Health Organization ‘Health and Workplace Performance’ Questionnaire (WHO-HPQ). 2015.

What are your thoughts?
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2 Comments
  • by GCC,
    Hi Richard,

    Thanks for contributing. You raise a really important point: that the underlying factors behind presenteeism are very personal and varied. The reasons may be due to psychological wellbeing, an engagement issue or, as you described, facing resistance when returning to work after an illness. Although the whitepaper does highlight the costs of presenteeism, more importantly, we hope it provides information on what employers can – and should – do to support employees.
  • by Richard Huckle,
    The reason that I had wished to read this article, rather belatedly I might add, was the , shall we say, "Perceived resistance" I experienced when returning to the job market some years ago, after recovering from a Myocardial infarction.
    Would this or could this have been 'assessed' as a cost of presenteeism at the time?