Is ‘presenteeism’ a problem in your workplace?

Ten years ago not many people knew what presenteeism was. Now it’s a hot topic, and with good reason, given it is estimated that presenteeism costs the Australian economy around $34billion each year. Medibank has been following the topic for over 10 years and suggests that it is 4 times more costly than absenteeism.

So what is it? Absenteeism is when workers are away from work due to ill health however presenteeism is when workers are present at work but are ill or unmotivated and therefore unproductive. This could be for a number of reasons – tiredness, inactivity, stress, anxiety, allergies, migraines, unhealthy lifestyles or being at work while unwell.

Stress related presenteeism and absenteeism is costing employers around $14.1 billion per annum. Back pain is seen as a significant reason with 80% of people experiencing back pain at some point in their life, and mental health reasons contributed more to presenteeism that other health conditions in a survey of 78,000 working Australians. The ageing workforce in Australia will also increase the presenteeism cost with an expected rise in the projected cases of heart disease, arthritis, skeletal problems and hypertension.

Aside from the obvious medical and health reasons, personality and work attitudes can have an impact on presenteeism according to a research article by Johns. I tend to agree.

So, with COVID-19 an ominous everyday presence in our working day, will this increase presenteeism or is working from home actually improving it?


Briggs AM, Buchbinder R, 2009, Back pain: a National Health Priority Area in Australia?, Medical Journal of Australia, 2009; 190 (9): 499-502

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd, 2011, MBF Absenteeism & Presenteeism Fact Sheet,

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

Johns G, 2010, Presenteeism in the Workplace: A review and research agenda, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31, 519-542.
Medibank, 2008, The Cost of Workplace Stress in Australia, August 2008,

Medibank, 2011, Sick at Work, July 2011,