Presenteeism: A Silent Menace

Presenteeism: A Silent Menace

If workplace absenteeism is a problem, so is presenteeism. Not just for the employer, but for you and your wellbeing

Absenteeism and presenteeism are similar in that they negatively affect productivity and are both stress- and health-related. Although the concept of absenteeism is fairly straightforward, presenteeism needs some clarification.

Presenteeism is basically working while sick or despite having symptoms that would be best served by rest or other appropriate support. Here’s more on the subject.

Types of Presenteeism


This is when working is deemed to be beneficial by the employee, but it actually isn’t for his or her productivity or recovery. An example of this could be a progressive return to work situation. Presenteeism doesn’t guarantee higher productivity. Quite the contrary! Presenteeists tend to be at least 30% less productive.


This is when working negatively affects the employee’s productivity and health. In this situation, the employee definitely needs help.


This is when working gives rise to amazing performance in the short term, but at a considerable cost to the employee’s health. Here, work is making you sick.

The Warning Signs

The signs that work is affecting your health will be physical, cognitive or emotional in nature. The inability to concentrate is the first symptom to appear and the last one to get back. Other symptoms include a bad attitude, loss of self-confidence, isolation, fatigue and apathy.

When a manager sees the tell-tale signs or notices a change in your normal behaviour, best practices dictate that he/she meets with you to discuss these concerns and refer you to appropriate support.

Studies have shown that nearly 60% of people who are exhibiting symptoms related to presenteeism will not seek help for fear of being stigmatized, or because they greatly underestimate the gravity of the situation. In both cases, the longer the person waits, the higher the risk of professional exhaustion.

The Causes

Presenteeism is often motivated by good intentions (e.g., dedication to the company, relationships with your colleagues, the perception that you’re not that sick). However, it can also be caused by feeling pressured to not miss a workday.

Other factors include the fear of work piling up, negative reactions from others at work, feeling unappreciated or fear of replacement.

According to a Robert Half study, 90% of professionals admitted they've always or at least sometimes come to the office when sick. One in two (54%) do so because they have too much work to do; 40% don't want to waste/can’t afford to take a sick day; 34% feel pressured by their boss; and 25% do what their colleagues do.

Psychosocial Factors

Psychosocial factors play a major role in presenteeism: high volume of work combined with a lack of autonomy, poor social support and little recognition. These factors can hurt your physical and/or mental health and lead to presenteeism.

Poor communication from management, lack of social interaction, isolation and a maladapted workplaces all contribute to the problem. However, it is possible for the employer to identify the risks and implement practices that bolster corporate health.

The Most Vulnerable

Employees confronted with a heavy or intensifying workload are at risk of presenteeism. This is due to the growing burden on their intellectual, mental and physical capabilities.

The self-employed are also at risk because of their workload, but also because of the mental and financial pressure of having to ensure their livelihood.

The Costs of Poor Health

The sooner you get the right help, the less likely you are of becoming sicker and ending up on disability leave.

It has been estimated that due to the pandemic as well as the stress caused by confinement, eight in 10 people have worked while sick in the last year.

Of the half-million Canadians suffering from depression, 40% did not miss one day of work. In Quebec, the presenteeism rate (9.9 days/year) is higher than that of absenteeism (7.1 days/year). Since we know that absenteeism costs Quebec businesses $6.6 billion, it stands to reason that presenteeism costs at least as much if not more. Comparatively, two studies conducted in the United States some 15 years ago estimated the annual costs at between $150 and $180 billion.


Your manager can help you by being attentive to the warning signs. This is part of working in a caring and supportive environment.

Presenteeism is a real issue, so let’s keep an eye on the warning signs. Check with your company’s HR department to see if an employee assistance program or other peer helper program is available to you.