Quinn Allan


Many HR teams are well aware of the cost of absenteeism in the workforce. However, presenteeism actually costs the Australian economy $34 billion every year, according to a report by Pathology Awareness Australia.

Why is presenteeism a problem for Australian businesses?

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism refers to people who are at work, but being ineffective due to ill health. They might be physical unwell or have mental health conditions – either of which can make it hard for them to focus on the task at hand and affect productivity.

It’s not just about people turning up to work when they should be at home recovering from a cold. Long-term, chronic conditions are also an issue for presenteeism as they can lead to long-term productivity drops and ongoing costs.

Presenteeism means a person is at work but not working effectively due to illness.

What are the effects of presenteeism in the workplace?

1) Reduced productivity

Colleagues who are at work but distracted by illness may be unable to think clearly and achieve as much as those who are well. They may make mistakes and this can also effect the productivity of those around them.

2) Excess pressure on colleagues

Lowered productivity puts excess pressure on colleagues who have to try and counteract it by working harder. It may be more preferable to cover a one or two day absence than continuously make up for an unproductive colleague.

3) Negative team morale

Where presenteeism is an ongoing issue, it puts long-term pressure on the team and can eventually affect morale. No one wants to feel stressed by a heavy workload all the time and when this does happen, the whole team may lose their positivity and enthusiasm.

4) Wide-spread illness

When people come into work with a physical illness, they risk passing it on to their colleagues. This can mean that more people have to take sick leave or are less productive at work, and lead to a continuous cycle of absence.

Presenteeism can affect whole-team productivity and morale as more work piles up.

How to counteract the effects of presenteesim

  • Send sick workers home: Ensuring your people get better as quickly as possible means they’re back at work and being productive sooner. You can also help by allowing people to work from home if they’re not feeling quite right, as they may be more productive when they’re comfortable in their own environment.
  • Provide adequate sick leave: Allowing adequate sick leave and allowing it to carry over can improve the chances of people making a full recovery first time round or sooner, as well as not sharing their illness with those around them.
  • Create a healthy workplace: Safework Australia say that productivity and wellbeing can be improved by addressing mental health in the workplace. By providing an environment where colleagues feel able to adjust their environment or take time away to see health specialists, you may limit the long-term impacts of illness.
With both absenteeism and presenteeism potential problems in the workforce, it’s important that companies look closely at how they can support people to be both present at work and effective.