A new survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)[i] highlights the growing problem of ‘presenteeism’ – with 86 per cent of employers it surveyed having observed staff coming into work while ill in the last year.

This has risen from 72 per cent in 2016, and just 26 per cent of employers in 2010. However, it seems that employers are doing little to tackle this growing problem. The CIPD found just a quarter of respondents that have experienced presenteeism say their organisation has taken steps to discourage it over the last year, a figure that has almost halved since 2016 (48 per cent).

Adrian Lewis, Director of Activ Absence says,

“These new figures suggest that people are scared to take time off from work even if they are sick for fear of losing their jobs or not getting work finished on time. However, coming into work while ill can make people worse, not to mention spread germs to others if they are suffering from colds and flu.”

“Presenteeism can also have a long-term effect on an employee’s health and wellbeing and lead to further problems down the line such as stress, especially if they are regularly coming into work sick. It can be a vicious circle that exacerbates stress as people struggle to work and find it difficult to perform at their best.”

The CIPD found that increased presenteeism is associated with increases in reported common mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, as well as stress-related absence – among the top causes of long-term sickness absence. The CIPD also found that the average level of employee absence rose slightly to 6.6 days per employee per year, up from 6.3 in 2016

Adrian Lewis says, “Presenteeism and absenteeism can impact performance, but employers can take steps to tackle these issues. One solution is technology such as absence management software that can help organisations spot trends, which can uncover underlying health issues such as stress.

“Often employers are blind to what is happening and have no idea that someone has taken a lot of time off sick or is regularly coming into work feeling unwell. Having the right systems in place adds transparency and a way for managers to initiate conversations that can uncover the root causes of any rise in absence.

“This in turn helps a business plan more effectively, tailor support for employees if needed and improve their health and wellbeing. The long-term business benefits of looking after your workforce shouldn’t be underestimated, including better engagement, motivation and productivity,” adds Mr Lewis.

Here are some other ways organisations can start to tackle presenteeism:

  • Develop a policy on both absenteeism and presenteeism and make sure everyone in the organisation is aware of it


  • Boost morale in the workplace. Perhaps look at more team building activities or something simple such as ordering lunch in the office every Friday to say thank you


  • Encourage people to look out for their colleagues and spot signs if someone is ill or struggling at work. Also provide proper training for managers to recognise the symptoms of stress, ill health or mental health problems


  • Ensure managers are aware of what causes presenteeism. Large workloads or tight deadlines can stop people taking time off to get things done. Line managers should be able to manage their teams’ workloads appropriately


  • Make sure managers have the soft skills so they can communicate effectively with their teams. They should also encourage positive working and wellbeing practices including strategies for a better work/life balance

[i] https://www.cipd.co.uk/about/media/press/020518-health-wellbeing-survey

Tips from Adrian Lewis, Director at Activ Absence






Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.