How can having your employee show up to work actually cost you more than them taking a sick day? It’s a pitfall called presenteeism.

Research shows presenteeism can actually be a higher cost to companies than absenteeism. A 2018 study demonstrated the cost of absenteeism to be about $520 per person per year, while presenteeism can cost $3,055 per person per year.

There is no question that showing up to work sick will inevitably result in a poorer quality of work. Author Walter F. Stewart says, “Pain, no matter what the cause, will always translate into lost time at work.” Not only that, but it endangers other employees who might be infected if you’re contagious.

Unfortunately, coming to work sick has a long history of being revered as an act of dedication. There are also other factors such as fear of losing a job and being unable to identify illness in yourself. Whatever the reason, presenteeism exists as a cultural problem in the workplace.

Here are 6 Steps to Ending Presenteeism in Your Workforce.


Be Intuitive

Many employees suffer from unseen or invisible pain, some of it related to mental health. It is highly possible an employee may continue coming to work simply out of fear or discomfort over disclosing information about their illness. They don’t want to be labelled with a sigma or worse, lose their job.

Leaders must be observant and vigilant. Watch for signs such as changes in behaviour, increased emotional reactions, absent-mindedness, difficulty concentrating, etc. Train managers on how to watch out for signs of stress or illness. So that they can support employees and encourage them to take advantage of their sick leave.


Redefine Dedication

Until recently, and in some workplaces even now, coming to work in spite of illness or injury was treated as an act of dedication. In fact, presenteeism likely still exists because that behaviour has historically been rewarded.

Leaders need to undo this association by reminding employees that the company wants them to be safe and healthy at work. Not just for themselves, but for the wellness of other employees.


Set the Example

Presenteeism is a culture problem. It has to be solved from the top down. As a leader, you can’t expect your employees to stay home when they’re sick if you aren’t staying home when you’re sick. You also can’t expect them to stay home and nurture themselves if they feel it will be a detriment to their jobs. In other words, they need to feel safe and secure about their employment status if they were to take a sick day or two.

Make sure when you speak about illness that you’re showing your support of staying home when sick. And then back up those words with your actions. Set the example by taking sick leave whenever you’re feeling ill or overly stressed.


Insurance Education

It’s always a good idea to provide regular and continuing education for your employees about their healthcare options. You want to prevent time and money lost to misdiagnosis, misuse of the emergency room, absenteeism and presenteeism.

When providing education and training for your employees on how to use their medical benefits, be sure to include education about presenteeism. Make sure they know that not only do they have the ability to stay home when sick. You as a leader actively want them to take advantage of that ability.


Digital Presenteeism

If you have remote workers, their working hours may be even higher than those of your in-office staff. Working from home is still a new experience for many people. Not being able to physically leave the home for the day means they have to create their own boundaries.

Support your employees by helping them set healthy boundaries. This can be logging out of their computers at the end of regular work hours and not answering messages or emails on their personal time.

As a cultural problem, presenteeism will not be solved overnight. However, if you take these steps now, you’ll gradually be able to improve the quality of life for your employees as well as save your company potentially millions in lost productivity.