SUMMARY: A 3-year national research study has been undertaken by the Mental Health Commission of Canada to determine how Canadian employers are using the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. Results will help identify promising practices, formulate programs, and develop educational tools and processes to help more organizations adopt the Standard and to promote mentally healthy workplaces overall.

Join the conversation as we share questions and ideas from our participants and expert panel. Visit the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) website for more information about the Case Study Research Project.

How do you measure and address presenteeism?

December 2015

Presenteeism is described as being physically present at work but not fulfilling all of the duties of one’s job. This is often due to underlying physical, emotional, personal, or mental health issues.

Employers are just starting to acknowledge the impact of presenteeism on their bottom lines even though it has likely been around for a long time. Costs of presenteeism can include both lost productivity and increased benefits claims related to accidents and injuries that are more likely to occur when employees are not at their best. Presenteeism appears to be more common than absenteeism1 but the costs of presenteeism are more difficult to quantify.2

While there is currently no consensus on a standard for measuring presenteeism, there are steps organizations can take. One is to conduct an (anonymous) survey that asks employees to rate how many days in a month they are experiencing presenteeism. Results are surprisingly accurate when employees feel their responses are confidential.

  • Ask employees to track the amount of time they feel unable to concentrate at a level to meet job requirements.
  • Watch for recognizable patterns of times where effort is less than optimum.
  • Request that employees offer solutions to address these challenges.
  • Conduct a follow-up to see if there are improvements after solutions have been implemented.

Solutions to reduce presenteeism might include:

  • Engaging employees and setting specific and measurable goals. Developing a Workplace Plan outlines processes and strategies to help get an individual employee’s commitment to solutions for past, current and potential workplace issues.
  • Having regular, one-on-one discussions with employees about specific productivity concerns. A Productivity Review form can help reduce presenteeism by engaging the employee in planning for task success and creating specific, objective measures of performance. The form helps outline expectations and also provides an opportunity for employees to ask for what they need to achieve the task. The form also includes follow up to identify any issues or roadblocks that may have impacted success.
  • Providing flexible work arrangements. In some instances, allowing employees to work from home or take work home can help compensate for personal pressures or workplace circumstances that may be interfering with their ability to do their job effectively within the work environment at the present time.
  • Addressing workplace conflict. Unresolved conflict can lead to higher instances of presenteeism. The article Improving the ability to resolve conflict in the workplace outlines some conflict resolutions processes that can be used. See Resolving Conflict for an alternative approach.
  • Creating a culture of engagement. Ask employees on a regular basis what will support them to do their best work. Put as many of their responses into action as are practical. Provide opportunities for employees to challenge themselves and play active roles in achieving the organization’s goals.

Ultimately, addressing concerns is the goal. But it’s also to help ensure that all employees feel valued and that they see opportunities to achieve success at work.

Additional information

Supporting Employee SuccessIssues related to presenteeism can be addressed by using this free tool that provides strategies for supporting employees in meeting job expectations.

Burnout Response – Provides a number of strategies that may also be useful in addressing the existence or potential for presenteeism in your workplace.

1Mitchell, R. & Bates, P. (Apr. 2011). Measuring health-related productivity loss. Population Health Management, Vol 14 (2). Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3128441/

2Klachefsky, M. (2012). Understanding presenteeism. Available at: https://www.standard.com/eforms/16541.pdf