Presenteeism Impacts Business

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Eschmann’s David Gibson asks: “Are your staff spreading sickness?”

Whenever we think about illnesses in a healthcare setting it’s likely that it’ll be the patients and those from outside of the organisation who take the main focus. After all, with patients coming and going it’s probable that they will bring illnesses with them, and that is often how viruses and bacteria spread.

However, it’s also worth considering – could your staff be just as guilty? Presenteeism (people coming into work despite being unwell) is very common, and this can easily spread germs, which, in dental settings, can be a major problem. Such behaviour might be reflecting badly on your business, meaning that eliminating presenteeism should be a priority.

What are the stats?

Though estimates differ, most sources tend to agree that the UK has the highest rate of presenteeism across the whole of Europe [1]. Research conducted by Bupa suggests that as many as 64% of people attended work despite feeling mentally or physically unwell in the last twelve months, and that one in four individuals was likely to ignore advice from doctors when seriously ill and head into the office regardless [2].

In fact, details published this year reveal that 2018 saw absences through sickness fall to the lowest rate on record within the UK [3]. While this is partly due to improvements in general health it also suggests that presenteeism is running rife.

In many ways, the modern work environment almost applauds presenteeism as good work ethics. After all, if a business or practice suffers no absenteeism due to illnesses it arguably should mean that the business is more productive – however, this isn’t the case. Research has found that presenteeism cost organisations as much as £605 per person each annum, which adds up, costing the UK economy an estimated £73 billion per year [4]!

Presenteeism can have a long-lasting effect on the morale of those doing it, quickly leading to workforces feeling frustrated, demotivated and unproductive. In fact, it’s also argued that those who come to work when ill are far more likely to make mistakes, and this can also negatively impact your business, especially in an environment where details are key – such as dental practices.

This then there are the more troubling effects of presenteeism – unwell workers are very likely to touch surfaces and spread their infections around the workplace. In a dental environment this can affect patients and thus spread around the local community and what if what’s being passed around is something potentially harmful like influenza.

What are the causes of presenteeism?

There are many factors that encourage people to attend work when they’re unwell. One common reason is the attitude that managers or the company have towards illness. Many workplaces discourage illness by refusing to offer sick pay or any other support.

When questioned, it was revealed that as many as 67% of 18-26-year olds felt like they were obligated to spend longer than their contracted hours in the workplace. Beneath this is a telling suggestion that these individuals may not feel like they have the job security to be able to have a sick day.

They may also feel like they have too much pressure and work to do to be able to have a day off despite feeling unable to function to the best of their ability. It was suggested that a lot of employees still came to work because they felt that their workplaces wouldn’t believe that they were unwell, which suggests a general feeling of distrust which might impact other aspects of the business affecting motivation and generally making for an unhappy workforce.

People who work for the NHS are particularly guilty of presenteeism, and statistics show that more than 65% of them still turn up to work when feeling ill, despite the health risk for patients [5].

Putting an end to pretend

In light of the negative effects on both health and business that presenteeism can cause, it’s necessary for practices to consider how they can limit this behaviour among staff. Are you able to offer staff sick pay or find effective cover for when they are ill? Are there any backup plans you can put in place in order to encourage staff to take the time off they need to recover? It really starts with creating a supportive, understanding attitude.

Aside from this it’s also important to ensure that decontamination procedures are followed to the letter. All surfaces and communal areas (including staff only areas) should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, and any instruments used should be sterilised using a high-performance autoclave such as our Little Sister SES 2020N.

This way even if there are illnesses in the practice you can help limit their spread, preventing your team from needing days off in the first place.


1] Recruitment International. Over Half of UK Workers Suffering from Presenteeism, Research Finds. Link, click HERE  [Last accessed December 18].

2] Bupa. Presenteeism. Link: [Last accessed December 18].

3] Office for National Statistics. Sickness Absence Falls to the Lowest Rate on Record. Link click HERE  [Last accessed December 18].

4] High Speed Training. The Cost of Presenteeism and Why It’s Not Just About Money. Link: [Last accessed December 18].

5] The Financial Times. Present At Work Yet far From Good Health. Link: [Last accessed December 18].