Insights November 2010


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Look up presenteeism in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Presenteeism is the opposite of absenteeism. In contrast to absenteeism, when employees are absent from work, presenteeism discusses the problems faced when employees come to work in spite of illness, which can have similar negative repercussions on business performance.

It can also refer to the expectation of employers for their employees to be present at work regardless of whether any work is available or accomplished.

Causes and history

While presenteeism has existed in some form or another for centuries, the term itself, which has been coined by employers' groups,[1] is relatively new. Presenteeism is widely thought to be caused by a fear of loss of income or employment on the part of the employee. Critics of employers' groups, which include trade unions, allege that presenteeism has developed as a result of a gradual relaxation of employment protection laws and reductions in benefits, most notably sickness benefits. For example, a number of companies in the United Kingdom do not offer sickness benefits for illnesses lasting up to three days. In the United States only half of workers have any paid sick days.[2] Employers' groups in turn allege that other factors are contributory to presenteeism, including an increase in health care costs, most notably in countries such as the United States, which has rendered employees more reluctant to seek medical attention when it is necessary.


Presenteeism can have catastrophic effects on a company's output and present hidden long-term costs and wider social problems beyond the enterprise. An employee who arrives at work despite illness may only operate at a fraction of his or her normal capacity despite requiring the same expenditure in wages, social contributions and taxes as an employee operating at 100%. They may also be more prone to mistakes, and in the case of contagious diseases (e.g. Influenza), they may transmit the illness to fellow employees, causing a larger fallout in work efficiency.


This new concept is considered one of the leading threats to employee efficiency and workplace safety. Employers' groups have thus far been reluctant to address the problem of presenteeism but a number of individual employers have recognised the problem to tackle it head-on, including initiatives to invest in occupational health and provisions allowing workers to work from home when sick. Some employers have begun asking employees who normally come in to work while sick, to stay home. Many employers, fearful of the avian influenza epidemic, are beginning to take preemptive actions against this new threat to the workplace.

In the United States, one proposed response has been to require that paid sick and family leave be provided to all workers. In November 2006, San Francisco became the first jurisdiction to pass such a law.[3]


  • Robertson Cooper Ltd (November, 2009): "'Presenteeism' on the rise as an estimated quarter of UK employees admit to working when ill".
  • CBS news (April 22, 2004): "'Presenteeism' Plagues Firms".
  • BBC news (November 30, 2004): "Cost of the sicknote scandal".
  • CNN News (January 26, 2007): 'Presenteeism' infects businesses
  • Zappone, Christian "Paid sick leave may be next big cause." CNN Money (November 17, 2006)
  • Levin-Epstein, Jodie. "Presenteeism and Paid Sick Days" Center for Law and Social Policy (February 28, 2005)
  • [1] Böckerman, P. & Laukkanen, E. (2010). What Makes You Work while You Are Sick? Evidence from a Survey of Workers. The European Journal of Public Health, 20:1, 43-46.
  • O'Donnell, James E., "Presenteeism: A Comparative Analysis" (2009). Masters Theses. University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Paper 317.


  1. ^ [by Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester University-The Guardian, 16/10/01]
  2. ^ Levin-Epstein, 2005
  3. ^ Zappone, 2006


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