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Presenteeism Costs British Businesses More Than Absenteeism

“80 percent of success is showing up”, said Woody Allen. Not true! Research shows that just being present at work does not ensure success. The problem of workers being at work but not functioning properly because of illness or life’s challenges, can reduce their productivity by a third or more.


What is ‘presenteeism’?


Known as ‘presenteeism’ or ‘sickness presence’, it is typically caused by chronic or repeated illnesses such as seasonal allergies, asthma, migraines, headaches, back pain, arthritis, gastrointestinal disorders, or depression.

Many of life’s challenges – family issues, money troubles, job insecurity, perceived pressure from managers – can contribute to presenteeism. An employee may come to work because they need the money and cannot afford to take time off due to illness, have large workloads, or, even because they love their job.

It’s a fact that presenteeism appears to be an even costlier problem than its much maligned relation, absenteeism.

But, unlike absenteeism, presenteeism isn’t always obvious: you know when someone doesn’t show up for work, but you often can’t tell how much an illness or a medical condition is reducing someone’s performance.


Are we working too hard in the UK?


It’s well known that UK employees work the longest hours in the EU, and the second highest in the developing world after the US. As American workers only get an average of 10 days holiday per year, it means that British workers are actually working longer hours each week than Americans.

Over 70 per cent of UK workers are putting in more than 40 hours a week, and 11 per cent work 60 hours a week or more.


The real cost of presenteeism to business


The Centre for Mental Health calculated that presenteeism from mental ill health alone costs the UK economy £15.1 billion per annum, while absenteeism costs £8.4 billion.

The American Productivity Audit (by Walter Stewart) found that presenteeism in the United States costs the economy more than $150 billion per year. This research also confirmed what most studies show that presenteeism is far more costly than illness-related absenteeism.

While there was little change in the level of sickness absence, up to 6.9 days in 2015 from 6.6 days across the UK in 2014, the problem of presenteeism is growing.

Studies by the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that on-the-job productivity loss from depression and pain was roughly three times greater than the productivity loss due to absenteeism from the same conditions.

In other words, less time was actually lost from people staying home than being at work but performing well below par.

Presenteeism is the biggest threat to UK workplace productivity, warned Professor Sir Cary Cooper in his opening keynote speech at last year’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Annual Conference.

Drawing on research from the CIPD’s annual Absence Management Report in 2015, which measured the impact of presenteeism for the first time, Professor Cooper revealed that the annual cost of presenteeism is “twice that of absenteeism”.

“Nearly one third of staff persistently turn up to work ill… Workers coming in and doing nothing is more dangerous for the UK economy than absenteeism,” he warned.

The research found that presenteeism is more likely to occur in organisations where long working hours are the norm and operational demands take precedence over employee wellbeing.


Build a positive culture to reduce presenteeism


At Spotless Commercial Cleaning, we’ve created a positive working culture for our people where we promote respect and support as our core values in everything we do.

We invest in our people and empower them to be a force for good in their work. This commitment to a positive and inspiring work place culture sets us apart from most other cleaning companies.

That’s how we reduce both presenteeism and absenteeism, and why our staff retention levels are significantly higher than other cleaning companies. Spotless cleaners stay with us for on average 3.8 years and our managers for 8 years.

And that’s why we provide career paths and promote from within. At Spotless, we are extremely proud to have people such as Tricia, Michelle and Nicola on the company’s board who originally joined the Spotless team in entry level cleaning roles. ‘Happiness is the Spotless way..’.


So, what more can you do to reduce presenteeism?


Our second article (being posted in a few days time), tries to answer this question in more detail and gives some guidance on what you can do to address the costly issue of presenteeism.