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:

  • Peter suffers from depression, but he doesn't recognise the symptoms. Frequently tired and feeling generally demoralised, he regularly calls in sick.

example #2

  • Carol's colleague, Steve, often criticises her performance at work and makes unwanted advances when her line manager isn't on site. Feeling intimidated, she stays away from the office.

absenteeism: understanding and managing a critical issue.

download our guide

what is presenteeism?

When employees are present but not productive, that's presenteeism. Instead of completing tasks efficiently, they stare into space, chat, browse the internet or take extended breaks away from their desks. Presenteeism is more difficult to define than absenteeism: employees are physically there, but they're mentally unengaged.

why does presenteeism happen?

Presenteeism is a very common phenomenon in the workplace—and it’s also common when employees work remotely. It can be hard to quantify, so it's not discussed as often as absenteeism, but it's just as prevalent. 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.


  • Individuals who feel unable to work for one reason or another might still attend because they're loyal to a manager or to the company.

staff shortages

  • Sick or otherwise incapacitated employees sometimes come in to make up for a 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.

example #1:

  • David has been ill for a while, but he doesn't have any more sick days and he can't afford to take unpaid time off. He attends work, but his performance is below par.

example #2:

  • Faith is the most experienced attorney at her firm. She has the flu, but she comes to work anyway because she isn't comfortable handing off cases to her colleagues.
Man showing a paper to a woman
Man showing a paper to a woman

how do absenteeism and presenteeism affect organisations?

Absenteeism and presenteeism both cause trouble in any organisation. When employees don't show up, their colleagues have to do extra work. When they do show up but aren't able to concentrate, they make mistakes or leave assignments undone. In both cases, overall productivity falls and other people ultimately have to pick up the slack.

In literal terms, absenteeism and presenteeism both lead to a loss of revenue. The 2019 survey by Direct Health Solutions has found that absenteeism increased by 1.5 days to 11.2 days per employee per annum compared to 2017, and is estimated to cost the Australian economy over $35 billion in wages and lost productivity. The investigation depends on the outcomes given by 104 associations across Australia, which altogether employ more than 255,000 workers. Respondents were mentioned to give information dependent on all unplanned absenteeism, including personal leave, workers compensation leave and unauthorised leave, paid and unpaid.

The absenteeism picture isn’t much better in other western nations. In the UK, for example, a 2017 Centre of Economic and Business Research analysis estimated the total economic cost of unauthorized absences at £18 billion (€14.8 billion). According to industry pundits, this figure could rise to £26 billion (€28.7 billion) by 2030.

There hasn't been much large-scale research into the financial toll of presenteeism in recent years, so modern-day costs are difficult to pinpoint. Given rising trends in risk factors like depression, diabetes and other health conditions in the developed world, we can safely assume that the financial impact of presenteeism is bigger now than it was at the turn of the century.

how to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism?

The direct and indirect fees associated with absence and inattention are considerable — particularly for small and medium-sized businesses. When employers reduce absenteeism and presenteeism, they reap tangible benefits.

these include:

  • Reduced staff-related expenses
  • Increased staff morale
  • Greater productivity

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. Solutions include:

encouraging employees to recover at home

  • When employees recover 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.

paid screening for common ailments

  • Company-wide diabetes, cancer or blood pressure screening programs can help catch health problems before they become serious enough to affect attendance.

occupational support programs

  • 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.

childcare options

  • Working parents benefit overwhelmingly when their employers provide them with flexible working options. Work-from-home arrangements or part-time solutions help to boost productivity.

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.

download the guide
about the author
a bearded man wearing a suit while smiling and looking to the right
a bearded man wearing a suit while smiling and looking to the right

richard kennedy

country director

Richard is responsible for leading the continued growth of Randstad New Zealand. An empathetic and relationship focused business leader, Richard works closely with his talented team of recruitment professionals who are passionate about shaping the future of work.

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

sign up