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Navigating Presenteeism: Understanding its Impact on Employers and Employees

November 9, 2023 from Gowan Consulting


Presenteeism, a silent but serious problem, lies beneath the surface of today’s hectic workplaces. As opposed to its more obvious counterpart absenteeism, presenteeism occurs when workers report for duty but are unable to give their best performance because of a variety of factors, such as issues with their physical or mental health.


The Hidden Costs

Presenteeism has a hefty toll on productivity and work quality, even though employees may physically be present. Surprisingly, the costs associated with presenteeism far outweigh those of absenteeism. According to a report by the Global Corporate Challenge, while employees were absent for an average of four days a year, they admitted to being unproductive for over 57 days annually. This stark contrast underscores the magnitude of the issue and its impact on organizational efficiency. Mental health concerns, including stress, anxiety, and depression, frequently rank among the top culprits contributing to presenteeism.


The Impact of Mental Health

Mental health issues, prevalent yet often stigmatized, play a pivotal role in perpetuating presenteeism. Studies reveal that mental health disorders significantly diminish an employee’s effectiveness at work, with affected individuals seven times more likely to experience decreased productivity. A survey by The Conference Board of Canada found that almost 60% of employers indicated that stress, anxiety, and/or depression or other mental health issues were the primary cause for employee absences, yet only 12% of employees indicated that they had taken time off for this reason. Cognitive deficits associated with mental health conditions can impair various aspects of job performance, including attention, memory, problem-solving, and interpersonal communication.


Untreated mental health issues can make presenteeism worse, creating a vicious cycle of deteriorating wellbeing and productivity. Additionally, employee burnout can worsen functional limits and prolong the presenteeism cycle if proper support and intervention are not provided.


Recognizing the Signs

While difficult to detect in the daily flurry of the office, presenteeism is important. Research indicates that presenteeism among employees can occur for a number of reasons, such as stress, worry, or sadness. A decrease in productivity, missing deadlines, a lack of connection with coworkers, and an increase in impatience are some warning signs. Workers who are experiencing burnout may show signs of detachment and lack of motivation, which are signs of underlying problems that need to be addressed.


Resolving Organizational Issues

The frequency of presenteeism is significantly shaped by organizational rules and practices. According to a Conference Board of Canada survey, more than 60% of workers cited staff shortages, personal guilt, and organizational policy on time off as significant factors in their decision to report for work even when they were ill. Strict policies about absence, a dearth of sick leave, and a lack of support for the well-being of employees can all contribute to presenteeism by preventing workers from taking time off when necessary. The problem is further exacerbated by the stigma associated with mental health and worries about potential consequences at work, which feed a culture of avoidance and quiet.


In the Path to a Healthier Workplace

Organizations that want to effectively combat presenteeism must put employee well-being first and make investments in mental health services. It is critical to establish a culture that values self-care, de-stigmatizes mental health, and promotes open communication. Strong support networks, adaptable work schedules, and early intervention techniques can enable staff members to put their health first without worrying about the consequences.


Proactive steps are crucial in navigating the difficult environment of presenteeism and establishing a healthier, more productive workplace. At Western Medical Assessments, we are aware of the difficulties companies encounter in promoting employee wellbeing and eliminating presenteeism. Our services, which include customized return-to-work plans, Independent Medical Evaluations (IMEs), and much more, can help to assist employers in mitigating the negative consequences of presenteeism. Contact us to find out more about how Western Medical Assessments can support your company and help foster a positive work environment for all employees.





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