Robert Half highlights problems around employees who are always there.

Present but not correct.

Employers are facing an uphill battle to prevent presenteeism in the workplace, according to the latest research from recruitment specialist Robert Half UK. Over the last 12 months, seven in 10 (71 per cent) UK business leaders witnessed ‘presenteeism’, where a someone come into the office when they were unwell. Presenteeism has a negative impact on business productivity; both on the quality of work and quantity of output. The causes can vary but without much needed rest, employees’ risk prolonged periods of illness or spreading it to other colleagues.

The invisible burden on productivity is most rife in the capital, with over four in five (83 per cent) workers in London noticing presenteeism in their workplace, compared to 62 per cent of employees in the North.

Table one: Presenteeism hotspots in the past 12 months

UK business leaders were asked: “In the last 12 months, have you noticed someone in your department coming into the office when they were ill?”*
London 83 per cent
South West & Wales 69 per cent
Midlands 67 per cent
Scotland 64 per cent
North 62 per cent

*Multiple responses permitted.

Source: Robert Half UK, 2020


Presenteeism is particularly prevalent at certain points of the year. Seven in 10 (71 per cent) UK business leaders admit that presenteeism increases during the winter months – a period when colds, flus and other respiratory illnesses are more common. Just over three in five (62 per cent) employers say that presenteeism rises during the school holidays. Meanwhile, over half (56 per cent) see an increase in it during times of stress and during periods of change (54 per cent).


Table two: Times of the year when presenteeism increases

Winter months 71 per cent
School holidays 62 per cent
Stress 56 per cent
Periods of change 54 per cent
Financial year-end 52 per cent
Summer months 48 per cent

Source: Robert Half UK, 2020


Businesses trying to prevent presenteeism are making moves to support staff to work healthily. The most common initiative on offer is flexible working (45 per cent), used to boost employee wellbeing. Aside from flexible working, one third (32 per cent) of employers say they are actively monitoring workloads, 31 per cent are offering remote working or the option to work from home during the week, while 27 per cent are increasing holiday allowances. Only a fifth (20 per cent) are offering mental health support.

“Presenteeism is the invisible burden on business productivity,” Matt Weston, Managing Director of Robert Half UK. “It’s not always apparent when someone is feeling unwell or how much an illness or medical condition is impacting their work, especially if they look fine. Productivity loss resulting from genuine health problems is a serious issue for employers and employees alike, but it is often overlooked.

“Presenteeism is often linked to workplace culture and how employees believe they would be perceived if they were to take a day off for illness. There are steps that employers can take to shift these perceptions, most notably by implementing employee wellbeing initiatives. Flexible working, offering complementary healthcare or simply encouraging team members to leave the office on time will have a positive impact. Education is also critical. Ensuring every employee knows the company leave policy and debunking any perceptions that this leave shouldn’t be taken is a good place to start.

“Employee well-being is central to job satisfaction and engagement at work, which in turn impacts a company’s bottom line,” concludes Weston. “Whether direct or indirect, it’s important that employers and employees acknowledge the risks of presenteeism collectively to create an engaged and happy workplace culture.”

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