06 November 2018

Five ways to save £77bn a year, by tackling presenteeism

Presenteeism rates have tripled in a decade, with 86% of organisations saying they observe people coming into work when ill compared to 26% in 20101 - it’s a serious issue and one that employers need to address. Costing UK businesses around £77 billion in lost productivity each year2, tackling presenteeism isn’t just a business issue but an individual one too as it takes its toll on mental health.  

The Health Insurance Group highlights the top five ways to tackle presenteeism in the workplace:

1)   Talk about it

Employees may not feel able to discuss with their managers, or indeed loved ones, about the pressures they face at work, including the feeling that they must be seen at work to prove their worth. Giving employees access to confidential counselling can help here - such as via an employee assistance programme (EAP) – which can allow them to discuss the pressure of work and find solutions to manage it more effectively. 

2)   Train managers

The cost to UK businesses of sickness absence due to mental ill health is estimated to be £8.4 billion, but in addition to this there is a further cost of £15.1 billion due to the reduced productivity of those suffering from mental ill health within the workplace.3 Employees feel the need to turn up at work, even if they are struggling with their mental health, and their productivity can dip considerably. Rather than allowing an employee to continue to suffer, proactive management and treatment of mental health can be beneficial all round. Training managers to spot the signs of mental health concerns, giving them guidance on how to deal with it, will save the UK economy the costs associated with mental ill health at work.

3)   Go on holiday

Research finds that employees aren’t taking their full holiday entitlement, with two in five taking a maximum of just half their annual leave last year.4 Those that did use their entitlement stayed in contact with work too, with 23% admitting to regularly checking emails. Holidays are crucial in taking a break from work, recharging batteries and feeling revitalised upon return. Being “constantly on”, rarely taking a break, is damaging and encourages presenteeism – as employees feel the need to work even when sick or on holiday. Businesses need to actively encouraging employees to go on holiday and take a break from work, they could also consider providing discounted travel insurance or access to vaccinations as part of their remuneration packages to support travel too.

4)   Put health first

Help employees to stay healthy in the first place, reducing their chances of getting ill. Provide opportunities for them to exercise regularly and eat well. Group exercise classes or discounted gym membership can help employees to stay active and avoid sedentary lifestyle-related illnesses.5 Similarly, fresh fruit Fridays, Walking Wednesdays and nutrition talks are great ways to inspire employees to eat healthily and maintain strong energy levels.

5)   Update health and wellbeing policies

Companies can put in place multiple initiatives to support mental and physical wellbeing, but if they are not backed up by policy and advocated by leaders then they can fall flat. Reiterate that people are not expected to come into work when sick – and in fact, are actively discouraged from doing so. Managers need to lead by example by not coming into work when ill, reassuring others to follow suit.

Brett Hill, managing director, comments: “Presenteeism is dangerously on the rise and UK businesses need to tackle the trend now, or risk having a burnt-out and unproductive workforce. Managers need to understand that a full office isn’t necessarily the sign of a productive and healthy workforce. They need to encourage employees to take time off if they are ill - rather than make them feel chained to their desks.

“Fear of deadlines slipping, putting additional pressure on colleagues if absent and thinking illness is a sign of weakness, makes the temptation to come into work when ill great. But this can inevitably prolong sickness and potentially impact others. Instead managers need to instil a culture where employees feel comfortable taking time off work if they are ill, without fear of being reprimanded, creating a healthier and more productive workforce in the long-run.”


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

2. https://www.consultancy.uk/news/15551/sick-staff-cost-british-firms-77-billion-annually-in-lost-productivity

3. http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3915 

4. https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/blog/we-just-cant-unplug-2-in-3-employees-report-working-while-on-vacation/

5. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-health-benefits/