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It’s starting to feel like that time of year again: cold and flu season. It’s inevitable that your office will be a bit quiet at times while people recover at home. However, you might find the opposite is true, that people keep coming in when they’re ill. But which is worse, employees being absent or present when they probably shouldn’t be?

The initial reaction to this question is often that of course being absent is worse than being present. But is it as simple as that? Presenteeism is something more people are talking about these days as there has been a greater focus on employee wellbeing and health and therefore the downsides to it are becoming more evident.


Absences cause obvious problems like a drop in productivity and other employees being overworked.

A report from ERS Research and Consultancy revealed that sickness absence costs UK businesses £29bn annually. The average worker will take 6.6 days off each year.

Surprisingly, not all companies record absences. 91% say they do but 39% of companies say they record absences on a spreadsheet or on paper. These methods aren’t always totally accurate because they’re left open to human errors.


On the other hand of the argument, presenteeism is coming into work even when you’re ill. This could be a sign of dedication but it could also end up causing more harm than good.

The problems with presenteeism might be harder to see. If a worker is coming in when they’re clearly too ill to be productive, this doesn’t do anyone any good. It runs the risk of passing the illness on to other members of staff, therefore increasing potential absences across the company.

If an ill employee is still coming into work and not taking the time to rest up at home, it could potentially stretch out the illness even longer, therefore making it worse than if they had just stayed off for a day or two.

When employees feel obligated to turn up, this usually indicates a high pressure environment which contributes to stress levels in the office. If people worry that no one will be able to cover their work, then this could be a sign that your workplace might be understaffed.

According to ERS, over three in ten companies reported that there was an increase in people coming to work while ill over the past year.

Of those that noticed an increase, 64% said they had seen an increase in stress-related absences and were twice as likely to report them compared to 35% of those who hadn’t.


One way to deal with presenteeism is to meet people halfway. If it’s possible for your employees to work remotely from home then this could come into use when staff are ill.

Working from home allows your employees to get some rest but also not miss out too much on work. Though it’s not possible for every company, if you can afford to let people work from home, this could be a good compromise for your workforce.


Which one do you think is worse for your business? Have you got any tips for other companies dealing with absences or presenteeism? Let us know your thoughts.

About The Author

Kara Copple

An experienced business and finance writer, sometimes moonlighting as a fiction writer and blogger.

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