How Robertson Cooper is changing the conversation around presenteeism

How Robertson Cooper is changing the conversation around presenteeism

Published 12.01.24


Presenteeism – team members attending work while ill – is widely considered to be one of the biggest issues facing UK businesses. There’s a widespread belief that employees turning up to work ill are less productive for longer than if they’d just stayed home, and the pandemic has made us all more aware of the risks of passing on an illness to other team members. 

It’s easy to be swept up with the worries around presenteeism when you see the costs reported in the press.

Presenteeism costs “tens of billions” says the BBC, as other outlets bandy around figures as high as £29bn per year. But is that really the case? 

Robertson Cooper, hand Group’s wellbeing specialists, have carried out their own research into the costs associated with presenteeism. 

In their latest whitepaper, Seeing Presenteeism Differently, Robertson Cooper reveal the true facts around presenteeism. Facts that’ll help you see this issue in a new light including:

Fact: Small amounts of presenteeism don’t impact long term productivity

After analysing absence and presenteeism rates of 734 employees across nine sectors, Robertson Cooper discovered that productivity only starts to drop significantly when people report five days or more of presenteeism in a three month period.

Despite what the scare stories will have you believe, short term presenteeism only has a small effect on overall productivity. So businesses need to rethink the way they measure and evaluate presenteeism data.

Fact: Managing presenteeism is important to reduce absenteeism

Employees working through illness can be almost as productive as healthy ones for short periods of time, but that doesn’t mean presenteeism should be totally ignored. Robertson Cooper unearthed a clear correlation in the data that says otherwise:

Higher rates of presenteeism lead to higher rates of absenteeism. And with absence rates at a ten year high (with each employee absent for two full days more than they were in 2019), tackling presenteeism is key to reducing the more costly issue of absences.

Fact: Presenteeism can be managed by cultural changes

Along with fact-checking the numbers around presenteeism and examining the real costs of working while sick, Robertson Cooper have explained just what businesses can do to improve productivity and drive down both presenteeism and absenteeism.

It’s all a matter of culture, policy and process. By stepping back, taking a holistic view, and making changes to guidelines and cultural norms based on real world data, you can reduce the impact of presenteeism on your business’ bottom line.

We’ll leave the last word to Robertson Cooper:

“It’s true to say that tracking and managing presenteeism is not an exact science, but our hope is that we’ve shown how the science of health and wellbeing at work can be used to make the task easier and more purposeful. With a clear and broadened definition of the concept, the means to measure it and routes to action based on the data, there is certainly hope that we can create a common and accessible approach to this ever-present issue.”

If you’d like to learn more about presenteeism, the effects it can have on your business, and how your business can make real cultural changes to boost productivity and wellbeing, make sure to catch up on Robertson Cooper’s free webinar:

Watch Seeing Presenteeism Differently

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