What is Presenteeism and Leaveism and what is their effect in the workplace?


Presenteeism is people coming into work when they are sick, or generally working when unwell.

According to CIPD’s 2019 Health and Wellbeing at Work report1, more than 80% of the organisations they surveyed have noticed presenteeism in their workplace over a 12-month period. 25% of these organisations reported a rise in presenteeism in their workplace.

Less than a 30% of organisations, who noticed presenteeism, took active steps to discourage it.

Organisations with well-thought out strategies and procedures in place are not more likely to prevent or discourage presenteeism.

What the study has discovered is that the only certain way to reduce presenteeism is if employee health is on the agenda of senior managers and leaders.

To effectively tackle presenteeism in the workplace, it is crucial to have senior managers on board for 3 key reasons:

  • People who are working when ill have the psychological security to feel like they can go home without any penalty (missed promotion or perceived negatively in the workplace)
  • Reduces the risk of other colleagues falling sick as a consequence.


While the term is still relatively new, the problem has been evident and growing for many years.

Leaveism is:

  • Employees using allocated time (annual leave or flexi time) for when they are ill, instead of calling in sick.
  • Employees taking work home when it can’t be completed during normal working hours
  • Employees working when they are on leave .

Just under 60% of the respondents in the CIPD report stated they observed ‘leaveism’ in the past 12-months. Leaveism is also most prevalent in organisations that suffer from presenteeism.

Again, the most effective method to prevent leaveism is to make it a priority of senior managers and leaders. This helps set a culture of wellbeing and emphasis that the focus should be more productivity and output, not necessarily hours worked – work smarter, not harder.

Effect on the workplace

Traditional methods of sickness management, such as absence rates, can be useful but increasing levels of presenteeism and leaveism indicate greater, underlying organisational issues.

Heavy workloads, which do not decrease over time, lead to poor mental health, imbalance in work and life management, and force employees to either work when ill or outside their normal hours.

Over time constant presenteeism and leaveism manifest in mental health issues and stress. These factors are the main cause of long-term absence in the workplace.

If these issues go untreated, most employees take long term absence or have a lower output, or in some cases leave the organisation entirely. Organisations need to investigate the root causes of presenteeism and leaveism in their workplace in order to ensure that long term productivity is not affected.

Making small changes such as encouraging people to go home when ill or helping them manage their workloads can have a big impact. Investing in sickness management, as a policy and a procedure to follow up means employees can get back to work faster. Find out why you should keep your employees engaged, and healthy in the workplace.

Sources: 1

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