Late last Sunday I met a friend at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. As I pushed my way through the massive crowd late in the night, I was struck by two things – just how big Winter Wonderland had grown and also that there were so many people out late on a Sunday night. With seemingly half of London out in force celebrating the festive season, just how many of these people would be functioning at work in the morning?

This got me thinking about a concept I have heard recently: presenteeism. When I first heard about the term, I assumed that presenteeism was the opposite of absenteeism, and so spoke to my fellow HR colleagues and realised just how wrong I was. Presenteeism is a term created by organisations attempting to put a cost on employees coming to work and being unproductive, or coming into work despite ill health. The main reasons for presenteesim include:

  • Poor sick pay benefits (or none at all)
  • Drug/alcohol related illness
  • Fear of discrimination, particularly for mental health issues
  • Pressure from management (perceived or otherwise) that you should come to work even if you are ill

With all the late night partying over the festive season, I wondered just how productive employees who turn up to work despite ill health are, and what does this cost organisations?

It is challenging for individual organisations to calculate the cost of presenteeism. There are limited number of studies which provide evidence of the costs, as these costs are extremely difficult to measure. So attempting to get to the bottom of this I spoke to another colleague of mine who is an expert in data modelling. The answer is to use a presenteeism multiplier to estimate the cost by multiplying your absenteeism cost by 1.8.

Why 1.8? The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health estimated the costs of presenteeism in the UK to be 1.8 times those of absenteeism. The reason for this is that presenteeism is likely to be more common among higher-paid staff and therefore more costly. Evidence across the US and other countries also support these figures. So, although employees think they are doing the right thing by turning up to work despite being ill, they are actually costing more than if they decided to stay home.

So what can organisations do to reduce the huge cost of presenteeism, particularly over the festive season? The answer lies in good performance management of employees with leaders trained to recognise signs of presenteeism and to take appropriate actions. This should be supported by up to date and relevant policies, health and well being surveys and communications on expectations of employees from HR.

Understanding the true costs of presenteeism during the festive period will help business prepare knowing that they are able to understand the true cost of their employees who are making the most of the festive season.