You have 100 vital orders to complete by the end of the week. On Monday and Tuesday, one of your main production team members doesn't show up for work. On Wednesday and Thursday, another of your employees doesn't seem engaged. Friday arrives, and you have to scramble to finish your project.

Sound familiar? If this happens frequently, you might have a problem with absenteeism and presenteeism. Below, we'll briefly describe each concept, and then we'll tell you how to reduce both absenteeism and presenteeism to boost productivity in your workforce.

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absenteeism in the workplace: understanding and managing a critical issue

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what is absenteeism?

When employees are habitually absent from work without good reason, that's absenteeism. Authorized absences — scheduled vacations and family emergencies, for example — don't count as absenteeism. Absenteeism is easy to spot because employees aren't physically present in the office.

why does absenteeism happen?

Sometimes, absenteeism is the main symptom of an undiagnosed chronic illness. Most of the time, however, absenteeism happens because of:

  • mental illness: According to a recent 12-month follow-up study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in the U.S., depression is one of the leading causes of absenteeism.
  • bullying: Team members who are harassed at work may avoid the office to escape unpleasantness.
  • disillusionment: Employees feel disengaged, disgruntled or bored in the workplace.
  • burnout: When people feel stressed out and exhausted for an extended period of time, they often crash and burn.
  • dependent care: Individuals who need to take care of elderly parents, disabled relatives and children sometimes have to take extra time off work.

Example #1: Peter suffers from depression, but he doesn't recognize the symptoms. Frequently tired and feeling generally demoralized, he regularly calls in sick.

Example #2: Carol's colleague, Steve, often criticizes her performance at work and makes unwanted advances when her line manager isn't on site. Feeling intimidated, she stays away from the office.

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When employees are habitually absent from work without good reason, that's absenteeism

what is presenteeism?

When employees are present but not productive, that's presenteeism. Instead of completing tasks efficiently, they stare into space, chat, browse the internet or take extended breaks away from their desks. Presenteeism is more difficult to define than absenteeism: employees are physically there, but they're mentally unengaged.

why does presenteeism happen?

Presenteeism is a very common phenomenon in the workplace—and it’s also common when employees work remotely. It can be hard to quantify, so it's not discussed as often as absenteeism, but it's just as prevalent. Some of the main reasons for presenteeism include:

  • lack of sick days: If employees don't have — or run out of — sick days, they might come in even when they're very ill.
  • loyalty: Individuals who feel unable to work for one reason or another might still attend because they're loyal to a manager or to the company.
  • staff shortages: Sick or otherwise incapacitated employees sometimes come in to make up for a lack of staff.
  • fear of job loss: When they're worried about the repercussions of absence, people attend work even when they aren't able to concentrate.
  • feeling irreplaceable: When employees handle most of the work or the responsibility in their departments, they may feel unable to take any time off — even when they genuinely need to.

Example #1: David has been ill for a while, but he doesn't have any more sick days and he can't afford to take unpaid time off. He attends work, but his performance is below par.

Example #2: Faith is the most experienced attorney at her firm. She has the flu, but she comes into work anyway because she isn't comfortable handing off cases to her colleagues.

Download our comprehensive guide to find out more about absenteeism and how you can manage this common issue in your workplace.

shaping the world of work

absenteeism in the workplace: understanding and managing a critical issue

get the guide

how do absenteeism and presenteeism affect organizations?

Absenteeism and presenteeism both cause trouble in any organization. When employees don't show up, their colleagues have to do extra work. When they do show up but aren't able to concentrate, they make mistakes or leave assignments undone. In both cases, overall productivity falls and other people ultimately have to pick up the slack.

In literal terms, absenteeism and presenteeism both lead to a loss of revenue. According to a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), absenteeism costs U.S. employers more than $225.8 billion (€186 billion) annually. To come up with that figure, the CDC conducted an analysis of various risk factors and found real-world dollar losses associated with each.

The absenteeism picture isn’t much better in other westen nations. In the U.K., for example, a 2017 Centre of Economic and Business Research analysis estimated the total economic cost of unauthorized absences at £18 billion (€14.8 billion). According to industry pundits, this figure could rise to £26 billion (€28.7 billion) by 2030.

There hasn't been much large-scale research into the financial toll of presenteeism in recent years, so modern-day costs are difficult to pinpoint. In 2002, a telephone survey called the American Productivity Audit estimated the annual bill associated with presenteeism at $150 billion. In Europe, a similar 2002 study estimated the costs associated with work-related stress alone at €20 billion a year, and the financial impact of work-related illness at between €185 and 289 billion a year.

Given rising trends in risk factors like depression, diabetes and other health conditions in the developed world, we can safely assume that the financial impact of presenteeism is bigger now than it was at the turn of the century.


how to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism

The direct and indirect fees associated with absence and inattention are considerable — particularly for small and medium-sized businesses. When employers reduce absenteeism and presenteeism, they reap tangible benefits. These include:

  • Reduced staff-related expenses
  • Increased staff morale
  • Greater productivity

So, how can you nix unauthorized absences and cut the amount of presenteeism in your workplace? The answer — and a new path to productivity — involves planning ahead, listening to employees and providing support. Solutions include:

  • encouraging employees to recover at home: When employees recover at home, they ultimately cost their employers less. They don't infect their colleagues and they don't produce inaccurate or sub-par work that requires correction.
  • paid screening for common ailments: Company-wide diabetes, cancer or blood pressure screening programs can help catch health problems before they become serious enough to affect attendance.
  • occupational support programs: Employees who receive support for chronic health conditions tend to feel more positive and productive than those who do not. Attendance and attention both improve as a result.
  • childcare options: Working parents benefit overwhelmingly when their employers provide them with flexible working options. Work-from-home arrangements or part-time solutions help to boost productivity.

how Randstad can help

In a world where technology is king, people sometimes get left behind. What if you could leverage the advantages of tech without losing that human touch? Here at Randstad, our mission is to support people and to help organizations—and their employees—reach their full potential. We combine the latest in recruitment technology with a personalized hiring program for every single one of our clients. 

We believe that without one-to-one input, people become less productive over time. Bring back that humanity, and existing employees re-engage with your company. We can help you by working closely with your HR department and providing insights to help managers address absenteeism and presenteeism promptly.

Download our comprehensive guide to find out more about absenteeism.

shaping the world of work

absenteeism in the workplace: understanding and managing a critical issue

get the guide
about the author
Doug Hammond
Doug Hammond

Doug Hammond

president, operational talent solutions (ots)

As President, Operational Talent Solutions (OTS), Doug is responsible for providing strategic direction and leading operational excellence. Doug began his tenure with Randstad as a Regional Vice President in 2013 where he quickly developed a reputation for innovation and driving results. He holds an MBA from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and has a track record of providing vision and clarity, while driving organizational change.

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