Presenteeism is definitely becoming a popular topic in Australia with Medibank recently commissioning a study of the cost of presenteeism to the economy. In 2009/2010 presenteeism was estimated to cost the Australian economy $34.1 billion, 4 times more than absenteeism1. Based on this growing publicity and the cost of presenteeism, it is definitely something that workplace wellness practitioners need to be aware of. A similar study by Medibank back in 20072, estimated presenteeism at $25.7 billion so in the space of just 4 years, the cost has risen by $8.4 billion.

Although Wikipedia3 defines presenteeism as being at work sick, there is more to it than that.

  • Loss of productivity due to illness or other medical conditions1
  • Present at work physically but not functionally4
  • Loss of productivity at work due to illness or injury5

The reasons for the loss of productivity are many. The Medibank study1 lists 4 main reasons for presenteeism:

  • Workers going to work with illnesses
  • Workers with asthma and other allergies
  • Unhealthy lifestyles
  • High stress levels at work and poor work-life balance

Stress related presenteeism and absenteeism is costing employers around $14.1 billion per annum2. With 80% of people experiencing back pain at some point in their life, it is seen as a significant reason for presenteeism6 and mental health reasons contributed more to presenteeism that other health conditions in a survey of 78,000 working Australians7. Common problems like migraines, headaches, inactivity and lack of sleep contribute also5. The ageing workforce in Australia will also increase the presenteeism cost slightly with a rise in the projected cases of heart disease, arthritis, skeletal problems and hypertension.

I tend to agree with Johns in his article on presenteeism in the Journal of Organisational Behavior8 that aside from the obvious medical and health reasons, personality and work attitudes impact on presenteeism. Evidence though, shows that work health promotion programs can help5 using education, awareness and identification5.


  1. Medibank, 2011, Sick at Work, July 2011,
  2. Medibank, 2008, The Cost of Workplace Stress in Australia, August 2008,
  3. Wikipedia, 2011,
  4. Department of Defence, 2013, Presenteeism – Being at Work Unproductively Fact Sheet,
  5. Bupa Australia Pty Ltd, 2011, MBF Absenteeism & Presenteeism Fact Sheet,
  6. Briggs AM, Buchbinder R, 2009, Back pain: a National Health Priority Area in Australia?, Medical Journal of Australia, 2009; 190 (9): 499-502
  7. Holden L, Scuffham, PA, Hilton MF, Ware RS, Vecchio N, Whiteford HA, 2011, Which Health Conditions Impact on Productivity in Working Australians?, Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, 2011; 53 (3): 253–257
  8. Johns G, 2010, Presenteeism in the Workplace: A review and research agenda, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31, 519-542.

wellness blog authorFiona Elliott

Fiona is a wellness consultant who is passionate about helping businesses, individuals and the community to find what works for them to achieve greater wellness, happiness and productivity in their lives.

well (adjective) – healthy, strong, sound, fit, blooming, robust, hale, hearty, in good health, alive and kicking, fighting fit

ability (noun) – capability, power, potential, skill, talent, know-how, proficiency (Collins Dictionary)