Time to get serious about presenteeism, it’s costing you $34bn

by HCA,Stephanie Zillman05 Nov 2013

The days of congratulating workers for soldiering on in the face of illness are numbered – studies now definitely suggest healthy workers are more productive workers.

While absenteeism has traditionally been seen as the root of all productivity problems, the experts say a much bigger problem is presenteeism – when an employee comes to work in ill health and does not work at full capacity. In fact, estimates put the price of absenteeism at $6bn annually, while the cost of presenteeism could be as high as $34bn, according to a report by Medibank.

Research from the healthcare provider showed that an average of 6.5 working days of annual productivity is lost per employee, and the overall cost for the economy equates to a decrease in gross domestic product (GDP) by 2.7%. “Employers have the ability to reduce presenteeism rates, thereby improving productivity and, in the long-term, generate a positive impact on their business bottom line,” Dr Matthew Cullen from Medibank Health Solutions said. He added that the problem urgently needs to be addressed, as employees who work when ill are more prone to injury and, if contagious, increase the risk of passing on an illness to other employees.

In order to minimise further negative effects to businesses and the economy, Medibank said investments need to be made in the health of staff, so that employers can reduce presenteeism rates, productivity and, in the long term, generate an overall positive impact on business.

The research identified steps to address presenteeism and improve their employee’s productivity, including:

  1. Awareness
    Be aware of the problem and the economic impact of health conditions on business and the Australian economy.
  2. Identification
    Get to know particular health issues affecting employees, so a company can design better programs to improve their health.
  3. Education
    Educate employees to ensure that illnesses are not going undiagnosed. Also, provide employees with access to information on lifestyle management, to prevent and manage illnesses.

Then, invest in developing strategies to support and improve their employees’ health and wellbeing. These include:

  1. Health risk assessments to help employees identify conditions that may cause future health problems.
  2. Employee assistance programs which offer counselling services for employees and their families.
  3. Wellness programs which foster healthy practices, such as consuming a balanced diet and regularly exercising.


  • by Leanne Faraday-Brash 8/11/2013 1:09:39 PM

    We applaud the dedicated worker but other factors contribute to presenteeism when workers are ill. Job insecurity, fraud/corruption, wanting to stockpile leave for holidays when one is well enough to enjoy them, the desire to stay away from home if home is not where the heart is and guilt at leaving too much work to too few are other reasons staff decide to soldier on. None of these are healthy reasons to keep going when sick and can point to unhealthy culture, fearful work climate, absent or uncaring management and extreme workloads.

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