Seven in 10 employers witness presenteeism in the workplace

Employers are facing an uphill battle to prevent presenteeism in the workplace, according to the latest research from recruitment specialist Robert Half UK.

  • Presenteeism is particularly prevalent at certain points of the year, such as during the winter months (71%) and school holidays (62%)
  • To reduce presenteeism, employers are offering flexible working (45%) and actively monitoring workloads (32%)

London, 12 February – Employers are facing an uphill battle to prevent presenteeism in the workplace, according to the latest research from recruitment specialist Robert Half UK.

Over the last 12 months, seven in 10 (71%) UK business leaders witnessed ‘presenteeism’, where a someone come into the office when they were unwell. Presenteeism has a negative impact on business productivity; both on the quality of work and quantity of output. The causes can vary but without much needed rest, employees’ risk prolonged periods of illness or spreading it to other colleagues.

The invisible burden on productivity is most rife in the capital, with over four in five (83%) workers in London noticing presenteeism in their workplace, compared to 62% of employees in the North.

Table one: Presenteeism hotspots in the past 12 months

UK business leaders were asked, “In the last 12 months, have you noticed someone in your department coming into the office when they were ill?” *
London 83%
South West & Wales 69%
Midlands 67%
Scotland 64%
North 62%

*Multiple responses permitted.

Source: Robert Half UK, 2020

Peak presenteeism

Presenteeism is particularly prevalent at certain points of the year. Seven in 10 (71%) UK business leaders admit that presenteeism increases during the winter months – a period when colds, flus and other respiratory illnesses are more common.

Just over three in five (62%) employers say that presenteeism rises during the school holidays. Meanwhile, over half (56%) see an increase in it during times of stress and during periods of change (54%).

Table two: Times of the year when presenteeism increases

Winter months 71%
School holidays 62%
Stress 56%
Periods of changes 54%
Financial year-end 52%
Summer months 48%

Source: Robert Half UK, 2020

Preventing presenteeism

Businesses trying to prevent presenteeism are making moves to support staff to work healthily. The most common initiative on offer is flexible working (45%), used as a way to boost employee wellbeing. Aside from flexible working, one third (32%) of employers say they are actively monitoring workloads, 31% are offering remote working or the option to work from home during the week, while 27% are increasing holiday allowances. Only a fifth (20%) are offering mental health support.

Matt Weston, Managing Director of Robert Half UK, commented: “Presenteeism is the invisible burden on business productivity. It’s not always apparent when someone is feeling unwell or how much an illness or medical condition is impacting their work, especially if they look fine. Productivity loss resulting from genuine health problems is a serious issue for employers and employees alike, but it is often overlooked.

“Presenteeism is often linked to workplace culture and how employees believe they would be perceived if they were to take a day off for illness. There are steps that employers can take to shift these perceptions, most notably by implementing employee wellbeing initiatives. Flexible working, offering complementary healthcare or simply encouraging team members to leave the office on time will have a positive impact. Education is also critical. Ensuring every employee knows the company leave policy and debunking any perceptions that this leave shouldn’t be taken is a good place to start.

“Employee well-being is central to job satisfaction and engagement at work, which in turn impacts a company’s bottom line. Whether direct or indirect, it’s important that employers and employees acknowledge the risks of presenteeism collectively to create a engaged and happy workplace culture.”


Notes to Editors

1The study was developed by Robert Half and conducted in October 2019 by an independent research firm among 600 C-suite and business leaders in the UK. This survey is part of an international study on hiring trends and career ambitions in the modern workplace.

About Robert Half

Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialised recruitment consultancy and member of the S&P 500. Founded in 1948, the company has over 300 offices worldwide providing temporary, interim and permanent recruitment solutions for accounting and finance, financial services, technology, marketing and business support professionals. For more than 20 years, Robert Half has been named to FORTUNE® magazine’s list of “Most Admired Companies” and offers workplace and job seeker resources at: and