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The Problem with Presenteeism

Presenteeism occurs when employees attend work despite health issues that justify absence. It is associated with poor employee and workplace productivity, reduced team cohesion, disease spread in workplaces and more long-term employee absences. 

Presenteeism is also a cyclical problem—employees who work instead of resting or seeing a doctor are typically ill for longer and may have worse symptoms. Presentee workers may work while ill for longer because they were unable to recover initially.

In the past, most research on lost workplace productivity has focused on absenteeism (failing to attend work as scheduled) rather than presenteeism because absences are formally reported and easier to identify. Recently, studies like that of Daniela Lohaus and Wolfgang Habermann have highlighted the negative impacts of presenteeism and its relationship to absenteeism.

Workers are likely to attend work while ill if they do not have paid sick leave, coworkers to fill their roles, strong workplace boundaries with superiors or a feeling of control over their work. 

Additionally, sick employees often attend work because they feel that their coworkers will face additional burdens if they are absent for even a few days. This is sometimes a perpetuating cycle. Employees who fear taking sick leave are often overwhelmed to begin with, and stress increases one’s risk of becoming ill.

There are conflicting opinions about the benefits of paid sick leave. Generally, Democrats tend to favor bills supporting workers’ rights to a certain number of paid sick leave days. In contrast, Republicans are less likely to support paid sick leave. 

In addition to state or federal policies, workplace and company policies also offer solutions to presenteeism. The latter often reduces presenteeism by addressing its risk factors, such as feeling overburdened by work or not having strong workplace boundaries with superiors. 

Presenteeism impairs the health and efficiency of both ill individuals and their coworkers, and policy changes on many levels may help prevent workers from coming to work while sick.


Aronsson, Gunnar, and Klas Gustafsson. “Sickness Presenteeism: Prevalence, Attendance-Pressure Factors, and an Outline of a Model for Research.” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, vol. 47, no. 9, 2005, pp. 958-66. Wolters Kluwer, DOI:10.1097/01.jom.0000177219.75677.17. Accessed 11 May 2022.

Lohaus, Daniela, and Wolfgang Habermann. “Presenteeism: A Review and Research Directions.” Human Resource Management Review, vol. 29, no. 1, 2019, pp. 43-58. ScienceDirect, DOI:10.1016/j.hrmr.2018.02.010. Accessed 10 May 2022.

Johns, Gary. “Presenteeism in the Workplace: A Review and Research Agenda.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, vol. 31, no. 4, 2009, pp. 519-42. Wiley Online Libraries, DOI:10.1002/job.630. Accessed 8 May 2022.

Pomeranz, Jennifer L, et al. “State Paid Sick Leave and Paid Sick-Leave Preemption Laws Across 50 U.S. States, 2009-2020.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 62, no. 5, 2022, pp. 688-95. ScienceDirect, DOI:10.1016/j.amepre.2021.11.018. Accessed 13 May 2022.


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