What the buzz? Volume 7: Presenteeism

Ghina Fahs
July 26, 2023
What the buzz? Volume 7: Presenteeism
Employee experience
People management

Welcome to volume 7 of alfii's What The Buzz series, where we bring you the latest buzzwords in the world of work. We're always on the lookout for the hottest industry terms, from LinkedIn statuses to blogs, articles, water cooler chats, and much more. Each month, we run a poll on our LinkedIn page, and with the help of your votes, we choose one buzzword to analyze and explain a fun blog post!

And the winner of this month's poll is presenteeism. This term has been making waves in the modern workplace, and we're here to break it down for you. Presenteeism refers to a situation where employees show up for work physically “for show”, but are not fully engaged or productive. It's like being there in body but not in spirit. They might be dealing with personal issues, health problems, burnout, or other factors that affect their ability to perform at their best. Surprisingly, presenteeism is more common than you might think, with research suggesting that it's on the rise in many organizations.

So join us as we explore what presenteeism really means, the impact it can have on the workplace, and how to avoid it when you really just need a day off!

Defining the term "Presenteeism"

Presenteeism (as well as digital presenteeism) refers to the behavior or culture of employees persisting in work even when their productivity is reduced or there are potential negative outcomes. They may be physically, emotionally, or mentally feeling unwell, distracted, unmotivated, or struggling with personal challenges that hinder their productivity. Presenteeism often arises from factors such as poor work-life balance, excessive workload, lack of support, or unresolved health issues. It creates a work environment where employees appear to be working more than they’re actually working, leading to decreased efficiency and performance.

“There’s [more] emphasis on being seen, rather than your output . . . as a proxy for how committed you are to the organization,” says Stephen Bevan, head of human resources research development at the UK’s Institute for Employment Studies.

What’s more, presenteeism appears to be more common with younger employees. Workers in their early twenties lose more than 50 % of productive time to presenteeism than those in their late forties, according to a survey by Vitality. Below is a graph depicting how health risk factors vary with age:

Here are some common signs of presenteeism:

    • Attendance at work while ill or experiencing symptoms, visibly or not.

    • Persistent refusal to take time off despite being unwell.

    • Reduced productivity or work output compared to usual performance.
    • Showing up to work (in person or online) to appear productive and present, even when productivity may be very low. This is done out of fear of appearing incompetent.

    • Decreased enthusiasm, motivation, or engagement in tasks.

    • Taking minimal breaks or working longer hours without necessity.

    • Avoiding sharing concerns about health or well-being with colleagues or supervisors.

    • Neglecting self-care practices or not seeking medical attention when needed.

    • Frequently working despite personal or family-related issues affecting focus or emotional well-being.

    • Displaying signs of exhaustion, burnout, or chronic fatigue.

    • Ignoring or downplaying the impact of health issues on job performance.

    Don't mistake presenteeism for:

    • Dedication or loyalty to the job.

    • Introversion or a preference for working independently.

    • Occasional or temporary periods of reduced productivity due to external factors, distractions, or “off” days.

    • Lack of skills or competence in specific tasks.

    • An issue that is unchangeable or irreversible.

    • A fixed characteristic or personality trait that is related to a person’s character.

    Here's how presenteeism impacts the workplace:

    • Decreased productivity and quality of work: when employees are physically present but not fully engaged, their output suffers, leading to lower productivity levels and potentially subpar work quality.
    • Increased health and safety risks: employees who push through illness or exhaustion may put themselves and others at risk in the workplace.
    • Negative impact on team morale: a lack of engagement can spread negativity and demotivation among colleagues, leading to a decline in overall team morale.
    • Higher turnover rates and difficulty retaining talent: employees who feel unfulfilled or burnt out are more likely to resort to quiet quitting or seek opportunities elsewhere, ultimately resulting in increased turnover rates and challenges with retaining skilled staff.
    • Adverse effects on organizational culture and reputation: a workplace with prevalent presenteeism can foster a culture of disengagement, affecting the overall reputation and attractiveness of the organization.

    Employers, here's how to address presenteeism:

    • Promote work-life balance: encourage employees to maintain a healthy balance between work and personal life. Create policies that support and encourage flexible schedules, rest, time off, and stress management. Promote the importance of taking regular breaks and encourage employees to recharge during non-working hours.
    • Foster a supportive environment: cultivate a culture where employees feel comfortable discussing their challenges and seeking help when needed. Provide resources for mental health support and encourage open communication.
    • Lead by example: managers and leaders should prioritize their own well-being and model healthy work habits. By demonstrating the importance of self-care and taking days off when they need them, they set a positive example for their teams.
    • Invest in employee development: offer opportunities for growth and skill-building, which can reignite motivation and engagement. Provide training, mentorship programs, or projects that align with employees' interests and aspirations.
    • Regularly check in with employees: establish channels for open feedback and support. Conduct one-on-one meetings to discuss workload, challenges, and personal well-being. Ask the right questions and show genuine interest in their professional growth and well-being.

    Employees, here's what you can do to combat presenteeism:

    • Prioritize self-care and don’t guilt-trip yourself for it: take care of your physical and mental well-being outside of work hours. Establish healthy boundaries, engage in activities you enjoy, and seek support when needed. 
    • Communicate openly: if you're feeling overwhelmed or facing personal challenges, don't hesitate to have an open conversation with your manager or colleagues. Remember, you’re not alone, your colleagues can definitely relate—seek guidance, discuss workload, and explore potential solutions.
    • Manage your time effectively: prioritize tasks, set realistic goals, and break larger projects into smaller, manageable steps. This helps to increase your efficiency and prevent ultimate burnout!
    • Take breaks when necessary: there is nothing wrong with needing a break! Honor your need for breaks during work hours. Use this time to recharge, clear your mind, and return to tasks with renewed focus and energy.
    • Seek opportunities for growth: actively seek out projects or learning opportunities that align with your interests and career aspirations. Engaging in meaningful work and taking on new skills can keep you busy and motivated.


    Presenteeism, a sneaky workplace phenomenon, is when employees physically show up but their productivity and engagement don’t. Not cool, right? Sure, we all have off days and that’s completely normal, but when it becomes a daily pattern, that’s when it’s time to face it and address it.

    Employers, get ready to spice things up! Embrace the work-life balance dance, create a supportive vibe, and invest in your employees' growth. Lead by example, and your team will follow your groove.

    Employees, you're the heroes here, too! Take care of yourself guilt-free, talk it out when things get real, manage your time like a boss, and never underestimate the power of a well-deserved break.

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