Presenteeism: A prominent buzz word for 2019?

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Presenteeism: A prominent buzz word for 2019?

Published 9 January 2019

Once upon a time organisations were predominantly concerned about employee health concerns which resulted in lost time and money arising from employee absences.  Nowadays those concerns have extended into time spent at work, 'presenteeism'1.

There is a variance in definition of this latest 'buzz' word defined within the online Oxford English Dictionary as 'the practice of being present at one's place of work for more hours than is required, especially as a manifestation of insecurity about one's job'2. The term is also commonly used to refer to coming to work when ill or being in work in body but not in mind.  Whatever definition you rely upon they involve the same health risk; stress.

Stress affects people differently and at varying levels. Some are more vulnerable to stress than others and often once a person has suffered from a mental health illness, they become increasingly susceptible to future mental health issues3. Sickness and stress also go hand in hand.  As the body's immune system weakens due to stressors it becomes more and more susceptible to sickness.

2018 has seen mental fitness take a more prominent place in discussions about health and well being in and out of the workplace   In 2017 the HSE announced a 3 year Health and Work Programme; as well as highlighting physical illness and injuries, it included an intention to focus attention on tackling work related stress.

In 2016/17 stress became the biggest work related illness in Great Britain, overtaking musculoskeletal disorders, and this years HSE statistics underline the continued need for a focus on stress4. Due to the stigma around mental health, stress and anxiety, many continue to turn into work day in and day out5. But are they really there? 

As an employer it is important to spot the signs of Presenteeism; not only for the health of your staff but also for the health of your business.  A failure to manage effectively the mental fitness of employees results in quality issues, reduced production, high levels of absence and employee turnover and costs organisations across the country billions of pounds every year6. Essentially, taking proactive steps to manage staff mental fitness will improve the wellbeing of your workforce and can save you money.  When employees are engaged and functioning well, you may see a reduction in accident rates and better performance which may increase productivity7.

In a bid to support their workforce, more and more organisations are introducing alternative benefits to their employees as part of their Wellbeing Programmes; including yoga, meditation and even colouring-in classes.  But what about your legal duties?

All employers have a duty, under s2 Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees.  Risks to the health, safety and welfare of the employee include psychological harm and work related stress. 

HSE guidance recommends that organisations carry out a Stress Risk Assessment and have a Health and Safety Policy for the management of work related stress.  The HSE also has a step-by-step workbook for tackling work-related stress, which is available, free to download from their website:

The guidance identifies six management standards which are:

  1. Demands placed on workers (workload/work patterns/work environment);
  2. Control of any employee's work (how much control the employee has to complete their work);
  3. Support for workers (Encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the Organisation, line management and colleagues);
  4. Relationships (promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour);
  5. Role (Ensuring an understanding of their role within the Organisation);
  6. The way change is managed and communicated.

The HSE's workbook guides employers through the process of applying these standards. It should be noted that this is guidance: it is not the law and alternative strategies may work just as well and/or suit your business better.  Generally speaking though, if an employer is following HSE guidance, it goes a long way to demonstrate compliance with the law.

A Risk Assessment and Stress  Policy are  good starting points for achieving compliance, but it will be necessary to monitor how effective your policies and procedures are.  Talk to your staff about their work related stressors and support your managers with how to get to know their teams well and identifying changes in behaviour.  Monitor staff turnover, stress related sickness and increased sickness absence. 

Ensure that you carry out effective health monitoring where appropriate and undertake return to work interviews to ensure staff are not returning to work too soon.  Where there are high levels of sickness absences identify any underlying causes such as mental ill–health.

In addition, with a continuing trend in the UK of long working hours you should be mindful of employees breaching the Working Time Regulations or lone working policies where relevant.

If you would like further information, or would like to discuss this article please contact Jessica Sayers.

Do follow us on Twitter @DACB_SafetyTeam to receive further articles and updates.


CIPD: Health and Well-being at Work (2 May 2018)

online Oxford English Dictionary

World Health Organisation Risks to Mental Health: An Overview of Vulnerabilities and Risk Factors

HSE Statistics 2018

TUC: 15% increase in people working more than 48 hours a week risks a return to 'Burnout Britain' warns TUC (09 September 2015)

HSE Statistics 2018

7 CIPD Health and Well-Being at Work Survey Report May 2018


Jessica Sayers

Jessica Sayers


0191 404 4043

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