Is Presenteeism Costlier To A Business Than Absenteeism

by Ruaidhri Horan, Marketing Manager, Abrivia Recruitment

Woody Allen once said that “eighty percent of success is showing up”. Presenteeism involves working long hours in a job when there is no need to do so. You are at your desk but you are not working at full productivity. You may be merely putting in the hours to convey the right optics to your superiors and perhaps out of a fear of being perceived as not “pulling your weight” or “going the extra mile” this could ultimately result in you losing your job if cut-backs were to occur in the future.

Presenteeism also involves coming into work when you are at you least productive due to illness, anxiety or injury(etc.)

While absenteeism is very simple to measure as a cost to the business, presenteeism is not. In a sales environment where there are daily or weekly KPI metrics it may be easier to identify employees that are there in body, but not necessarily in spirit. However, in many other corporate cultures it is much more difficult to identify, even in situations where KPI’s are being met you may ask yourself why it takes one employee significantly more hours than another to achieve the same outcome?

Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”. So, if an employee decides to work a few extra hours every day and has the same workload which he/she completed during normal working hours, work will expand to fill those extra hours. The employee is becoming less productive to fill in extra hours.

In addition, if you decide to come into work whilst ill, not only are you at your least productive you could also infect other employees with for example your cold of flu. The domino effect of this is that you could cause absenteeism in others and greatly affect the overall productivity of your organisation. The Global Corporate Challenge report, which surveyed over 2,000 employees globally found that presenteeism costs businesses 10 times more than absenteeism, which is a shocking result. Employees surveyed admitted being unproductive for the equivalent of 57.5 days a year whilst taking 4 days a year off on average due to illness.

As an employer or manager do you measure your best employees as simply those who are first to show up in the morning and last to leave in the evening? If so, look more closely at their productivity and check whether presenteeism is prevalent in your business environment. Look not just at the hours being put in but look more at what is being put into those hours.

While many employees are very productive but simply have a huge workload, hence they are required to work long hours to ensure project deadlines are achieved, there are others who put in the long hours as they believe that “80% of success in life is about showing up”. Presenteeism is a huge hidden cost to many organisations due to reduced productivity and should be ignored by businesses at their peril.