27th Apr, 2020 Read time 5 minutes

Why your company needs to manage presenteeism and absenteeism in the workplace

Behavioural safety is viewed by many as one of the key strategies that can be used to try and tackle the current plateau in EHS improvement. It is thought that if we can influence and change a workers behaviour for the good, this will naturally lead to process and compliance improvements that will help to reduce the total number of workplace incidents and increase the general safety of those at work.

One of the big issues that are faced by those in behavioural safety is the idea of presenteeism and absenteeism; both of which can have a negative impact on the safety of your staff.

What is the difference between presenteeism and absenteeism?

Many people will be familiar with absenteeism, which essentially concerns any inappropriate absence from work by an employee. This can be due to several reasons which may be within and outside the control of the individual. Presenteeism is in many ways the inverse, it is when an individual comes to work when they are ill (Garrow, 2016). This can include both mental and physical ailments, but many do not consider reasons other than illness as a factor in the equation.

The dangers of presenteeism

Presenteeism in the workplace is thought to cost businesses £73 billion a year. This figure puts a price on the dangers of presenteeism, but it can have some very real human threats as well.

Despite the recorded issues around presenteeism, some feel the phenomenon could have some benefits for select individuals. Whilst traditional thinking centres on the idea that workers should be 100% fit to return to work, some research suggests that coming to work when you are not fully fit could be good for your mental health and recovery.

Of course, this depends on the individual and the illness that they are experiencing, and you must consider the potential ramifications for other members of staff should they also become unwell.

This theory may be worth a try, but the dangers of presenteeism cannot be understated as it can lead to a higher incident rate, reduced morale and further illness down the line.


How absenteeism can affect your business and employees

The inverse of workers being present, If they are not returning the work when they should be this can also be a dangerous situation. If they are performing a safety-critical role, the handover and for example, lack of experience of the individual taking over could lead to an incident in the future. In a wider workplace context, if an individual is absent without good reason for an extended period it can impact on other workers; who may experience stress and mental health-related issues due to a higher workload.

The complexities of the two issues concerning the presence of employees at work can be difficult to manage. A key challenge is tackling damaging presenteeism without increasing unnecessary absenteeism.


The drivers of Presenteeism and Absenteeism

The factors that drive workers to turn up for work when they are unfit for are diverse and can often be multifaceted. At our HSE UK event, we were privileged to listen to Lawrence Waterman of the British Safety Council on the drivers of presenteeism.

You can watch the full video by clicking here.


Drivers of Presenteeism:

  • Workers do not get paid if they don’t turn up
  • Worried about the opinions and views of colleagues
  • They feel their role must be fulfilled with them at work
  • A feeling that the worker’s job is not secure

As Lawrence states, some of the reasons given for presenteeism are the inverse when it comes to absenteeism (Badubi, 2017). The absence of am employee from work could be due to:

  • Financial concerns at home
  • Marital or relationship strains outside of work
  • Cultural approaches to work
  • Transportation issues
  • Disenfranchisement with the job role

These are but a few of some of the factors that may lead to a worker staying home when they should be at work. Part of the challenge organisations face is creating an environment where individuals feel comfortable sharing some of their feeling towards factors like those listed above.

How to start to foster a company where staff can be open about their ability to work

The solution to reducing the amount of negative presenteeism in your workplace is a diverse one and many believe it can only be solved by creating an environment that your employees feel comfortable sharing their views and experiences in.

If you want some further information on presenteeism and the effect it has on an organisation, the full video clip of Lawrence’s workshop can be found here.

About Lawrence Waterman

This article has been developed with insights from Lawrence Waterman, Chairman of the British Safety Council. In addition to his support with the HSE Global Series Lawrence has extensive experience in health and safety with a Master’s Degree in Occupational Hygiene. Lawrence is one of the key content providers for the HSE Network.

Lawrence Waterman


Garrow, V. (2016) Available at: https://www.employment-studies.co.uk/system/files/resources/files/507_0.pdf

Badubi, R.M., (2017). A Critical Risk Analysis of Absenteeism in the Work Place. Journal of International Business Research and Marketing, 2(6), pp.32-36.

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