One word that could be costing you and other organizations millions every year

January 20, 2022

For business owners, plan administrators, and sponsors


Ever had a cold, a migraine, or had a heated argument with a loved one and still worked that day?

Most of us have. But if you take a moment to reflect, just how well did you perform at work that day? Illness, whether physical or mental is the enemy of our to do lists, and for organizations, they can reduce productivity significantly. Some studies suggest presenteeism costs two, three or even 10 times more than absenteeism according to Eric Pfeiffer, a Senior Health Management Consultant at Manulife. 1, 2

What is Presenteeism?

Presenteeism refers to the time an employee is physically at work but not fully productive because of physical or mental health illness, or stress related to issues with their job, finances, or personal life.

“Over the years, organizations have worked hard to reduce absenteeism, with a seemingly reasonable expectation that if someone is at work, they’re productive.” Pfeiffer said. “But research suggests that we need to shift our focus: because simply showing up for work isn’t equivalent to being productive at work.”

According to Manulife’s 2020 Wellness Report, 45% of employees surveyed said that health problems affect their productivity at work. In another global study where employees reported taking an average of four days of sick time in a year, they also admitted to being unproductive an average of 57.5 days a year. 1

Your organization’s data may be different. But, whether or not you choose to measure presenteeism, it exists – at least to some degree. 

Presenteeism vs absenteeism

There’s a fine balance between these two. Consider this: rarely is someone feeling their best one day and suddenly on a disability leave the next. Instead, what’s likely happened is that little by little, their health has deteriorated, and their condition has gone unaddressed.

“The employee may have been suffering for weeks, months, or even years—coming to work each day but hampered by their condition,” Pfeiffer said. “Until finally, they can no longer manage, and the employee moves from struggling with productivity to going off on a short- or long-term leave.”

But how might the story end differently? Could we take early steps to help employees struggling with their mental or physical health? Manulife can help you address productivity issues and improve employee wellbeing. You can find more information on employee mental and physical health in Manulife’s 2020 Wellness Report.