Are you really “present” at work?

How many times have you gone to work feeling exhausted having had a terrible nights sleep? How many times have you “soldiered on” through a busy day at the office with a bad case of hayfever and allergies? How many times have you braved your day at work whilst internally battling feelings of stress, anxiety or depression? If you answered ‘often’ to each of these, then you’re not alone.

“Presenteeism” is the new workplace crisis sweeping its way across Australia. It refers to lost productivity of a ‘present’ employee due to injury or illness. Basically, many employees are feeling “under the weather”, yet still coming to work, thus not being able to work to their full potential. An individual’s health is crucial to their daily performance – both personal and professional.

How does this impact on companies?

Dr Christine Bennett, chief medical officer of BUPA states that, “The prevalence of ‘presenteeism’ is increasing and is now a $25.7 billion problem facing the Australian economy”.  With figures like this bandied around, there’s no question that “workplace wellness” is a big issue, and businesses need to start putting the ‘H’ back in OH&S.

Research undertaken by Medibank Private found that healthy workers are more than THREE TIMES more productive whilst at work! They also take far less sick leave than their less healthy colleagues. For employers, it is no longer good enough to simply attract and employ staff. Businesses must keep their staff happy and healthy for them to maintain company productivity.

What are some causes of ‘presenteeism’?

The most common causes include headaches and migraines, lack of sleep, neck and back pain, stress, anxiety, depression, obesity, smoking, physical inactivity and allergies. Australians are renowned around the world for our solid work ethic, and we work some of the longest hours of any workforce in the world. The evidence suggests that this ethic may not be doing us any good. Moreover, for many people, work itself is a major cause of stress. Nutritional counselling, natural medicines, and lifestyle advice can effectively address and assist many of these common complaints!

So what is the solution?

Both employers and employees should prepare for inevitable situations such as sickness, family concerns, and personal stressors which life so often brings. Honesty, employee flexibility, corporate wellness programs, staff incentives, and stress-management tools are all ways in which presenteeism can be reduced. Some other options to consider may be:

  • Instead of biscuits and coffee, disperse bowls of fruit around the office for staff to munch on
  • Provide free or discounted gym memberships employees
  • Have “wellness consultants” who do one-on-one mini health appraisals for staff
  • Set up company sporting teams to build team morale and boost fitness levels
  • Organise public speakers to educate staff about healthy lunch options, office exercises to reduce pain
  • Implement 10 minute stress management techniques such as meditation, stretches or breathing exercise
The bottom line is that businesses should be proactive, not reactive; and healthy businesses need healthy staff! If you are an employer, you should seriously consider implementing some of the above suggestions. If you are an employee, talk to your employer about implementing some of the above suggestions, be honest with your employer about how you’re feeling, resist the temptation to ‘soldier on’ when you’re under the weather, don’t lose sight of the importance of personal wellbeing, and remember that health is the new wealth. 



Brown HE, Gilson ND, Burton NW, Brown WJ 2011, ‘Does physical activity impact on presenteeism and other indicators of workplace well-being?’ Sports Med. Mar 1;41(3):249-62.

Economic Modelling of the cost of presenteeism in Australia, Econtech 2007,

MBF, Fact sheet on Absenteeism and Presenteeism viewed on 6th August 2011.

3 responses

  1. Great article. So very true. Maybe meat and salad and a piece of fruit might give that bit of a boost rather than heavy bread or take away food??

  2. Pingback: Back in the Saddle: Keeping Life Balance Despite the Challenges | MS Means…Living and Laughing with Multiple Sclerosis

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