You have 100 vital orders to complete by the end of the week. On Monday and Tuesday, one of your main production team members doesn't show up for work. On Wednesday and Thursday, another of your employees doesn't seem engaged. Friday arrives, and you have to scramble to finish your project.

Sound familiar? If this happens frequently, you might have a problem with absenteeism and presenteeism.

Below, we'll present an introduction to each concept, and then we'll tell you how to reduce both absenteeism and presenteeism to boost productivity in your workforce.

what is absenteeism?

When employees are habitually absent from work without good reason, that's absenteeism. Authorised absences — scheduled vacations and family emergencies, for example — don't count as absenteeism. Absenteeism is easy to spot because employees aren't physically present in the office.

why does absenteeism happen?

Sometimes, absenteeism is the main symptom of an undiagnosed chronic illness. Most of the time, however, absenteeism happens because of:

mental illness


  • Team members who are harassed at work may avoid the office to escape unpleasantness.


  • Employees feel disengaged, disgruntled or bored in the workplace.


  • When people feel stressed out and exhausted for an extended period of time, they often crash and burn.

dependent care

  • Individuals who need to take care of elderly parents, disabled relatives and children sometimes have to take extra time off work.

example #1: 

John has been feeling low for months and can barely get out of bed in the morning. Nothing interests him anymore, including his job, and he frequently calls off work at the last minute.

example #2

Sarah’s coworker is very critical of her work and makes unwanted advances when her line manager isn't on site. Feeling intimidated, she stays away from the office as much as possible.

example #3 

Joan and her husband are the primary caregivers for both sets of parents. They call off at least twice a month due to doctor’s appointments and sudden emergency visits.

what is presenteeism?

Employees who function below par at work, either due to sickness, mental state or a lack of interest in their jobs, are exhibiting presenteeism. As a result, it may take them longer to complete tasks as they zone out, take frequent breaks or just work at a much slower pace than those around them.

It can be difficult to pinpoint an employee who fits the presenteeism definition because they’re physically at their desk but mentally unengaged. Sometimes, you’re not even aware of presenteeism until an employee is absent or has quit, leaving behind a large number of unfinished tasks.

why does presenteeism happen?

Presenteeism in the workplace is a widespread phenomenon, and it occurs in-office as well as remotely. It can be hard to quantify, so it's not discussed as often as absenteeism, but it's just as prevalent. Presenteeism can arise from good intentions or result from a lack of employee engagement. Some of the main reasons for presenteeism include:

  • lack of sick days: If employees don't have — or run out of — sick days, they might come in even when they're very ill and can’t perform
  • loyalty: Individuals who feel unable to work for one reason or another might still attend because they're loyal to a manager or the company
  • staff shortages: Sick or incapacitated employees sometimes come in to compensate for the lack of staff
  • fear of job loss: When they're worried about the repercussions of absence, people attend work even when they aren't able to concentrate
  • feeling irreplaceable: When employees handle most of the work or the responsibility in their departments, they may feel unable to take any time off — even when they genuinely need to
  • boredom: Employees who aren’t engaged in their jobs may take every opportunity to avoid actual work. This is especially true for those who perform repetitive tasks or have no opportunities for advancement.
  • remote work: Unfortunately, some employees take advantage of remote work opportunities to log in but not work productively. They may simultaneously do household chores, play with the dog or talk on the phone, all while appearing to be online.

Example #1: Michael has a chronic illness. He’s used up all his sick days and needs his full-time salary for living expenses. Michael shows up every day but feels miserable, and his work shows it.

Example #2: Ivan is a micromanager. He frequently comes to work when ill because he doesn’t trust his subordinates to do things correctly.

Example #3: John feels he is putting in his time until retirement. He comes to work every day, performing as little as possible and chatting with coworkers.


absenteeism: understanding and managing a critical issue.

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how do absenteeism and presenteeism affect organisations?

Absenteeism and presenteeism both cause trouble in an organisation. When employees don't show up, productivity decreases as tasks are left unfinished or coworkers are overburdened. When they do show up but are unengaged, inattentive or spread germs to coworkers, productivity also decreases.

A 2022 survey published by Statista Research Department found that over 54% of facility managers felt that absenteeism was a significant factor in their daily operations, up 7 points from the preceding year.

Lockton, a worldwide insurance brokerage firm, recently authored a 2022 report, ‘Waking up to Absence.’ Key takeaways include the extremely high costs associated with absenteeism, including loss of productivity, motivation and employee safety. In addition, the company found that workers who are habitually absent (over 70 days) have a 65% chance of leaving the company.

Presenteeism in the workplace should be equally worrying to employers.

A study focusing on prison officers working in the United Kingdom during 2020 found a direct link between frequent incidents of presenteeism and lowered mental health, job performance and workplace safety.

Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace puts some staggering numbers to the problem of presenteeism — 7.8 trillion dollars! That’s how much companies lose due to low productivity caused by a lack of engagement.

And if that’s not enough cause for concern, Randstad’s Workmonitor 2023 survey found that employees have no qualms about leaving a job that’s unfulfilling to them personally and professionally, especially Gen Zs (58%) and millennials (54%).So, employees exhibiting signs of presenteeism may very well be the next ones you need to replace.

Fortunately, while the direct and indirect costs associated with absence and inattention are considerable, employers who react to reduce these problems reap tangible benefits. This is particularly true for small and medium-sized businesses operating within tight parameters of personnel and money. These benefits include:

  • reduced staff-related expenses
  • increased staff morale
  • greater productivity
a man wearing a blue shirt and jeans smiling while working in manufacturing
a man wearing a blue shirt and jeans smiling while working in manufacturing

managing presenteeism and absenteeism in your business

So, how can you nix unauthorised absences and cut the amount of presenteeism in your workplace? The answer — and a new path to productivity — involves planning ahead, listening to employees and providing support. Check out the following suggestions, which are categorised by motivating factors.

physical and mental ill health

  • encourage sick employees to recover at home: When ill employees remain at home, they ultimately cost their employers less. They don't infect their colleagues, and they don't produce inaccurate or sub-par work that requires correction.
  • provide on-site screening for common ailments: Company-wide diabetes, cancer or blood pressure screening programmes can help catch health problems before they become serious enough to affect attendance.
  • offer occupational support programmes: Employees who receive support for chronic health conditions tend to feel more positive and productive than those who do not. Attendance and attention both improve as a result.

work environment

  • invest in quality managers: Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace Report found one thing in common with all five causes of employee burnout — a bad boss. In fact, one substandard manager could ruin a whole department, creating an environment ripe for absenteeism and presenteeism. Learning and development programmes aimed at producing great leaders can significantly improve your work environment.
  • take a hard stance on bullying and harassment: Use anonymous surveys and exit interviews to identify culprits in your workplace. Then follow with quick action, starting with training and ending with dismissal if necessary.
  • offer growth opportunities: Employees are looking for ways to grow, and 30% are willing to switch jobs if necessary for advancement opportunities, according to the Randstad Workmonitor 2023 report. In addition, training and development can help combat a lack of engagement, a major contributor to ‘quietly quitting’ a job.. Upskilling and reskilling your current employees could help improve morale and provide you with the talent to overcome labour shortages.


  • research hybrid and remote work possibilities: Not every company or department can support virtual roles. However, providing work-from-home opportunities to employees can help with certain types of absenteeism. In addition, 40% of workers surveyed by Randstad state that flexibility regarding where they work is key to accepting a job. 
  • flexible work hours: Along with flexibility around where they work, employees want flexibility regarding when they work. Switching to flexible hours or a four-day workweek permits employees time to schedule appointments and care for family members.

childcare options: Working parents benefit overwhelmingly when their employers provide flexible working options. Work-from-home arrangements, part-time solutions or the ability to create their own schedules help boost productivity among employees. 

  • Cisco’s Global Hybrid Work Study 2022 found that hybrid work has helped equalise employees' life-work balances, with commuting time savings a major factor, as well as unnecessary office interactions.

how randstad can help

In a world where technology is king, people sometimes get left behind. What if you could leverage the advantages of tech without losing that human touch? Here at Randstad, our mission is to support people and to help organisations—and their employees—reach their full potential. We combine the latest in recruitment technology with a personalised hiring program for every single one of our clients. 

We believe that without one-to-one input, people become less productive over time. Bring back that humanity, and existing employees re-engage with your company. We can help you by working closely with your HR department and providing insights to help managers address absenteeism and presenteeism promptly.

Download our comprehensive guide to find out more about absenteeism.

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about the author

jonathan alonzo

director - industrial & inhouse services

stay up to date on the latest recruitment and labour market news, trends and reports.