Presenteeism: The New Business Bug in Town

It does not matter what time of the year it is, we all get distracted from time to time. Whether it is a physical illness, having to take care of a child or an elderly parent, a problem in our relationships or we become disgruntled at work. At sometime or another, we find our minds wondering and our emotions being less then cooperative.

I work with businesses coaching people on the effect peoples relationships have on their job performance. I like to say that we have four relationships in our lives. Our committed relationships, personal relationships, professional relationships and most importantly, the relationship we have with ourselves.


Before I began to work with companies, I of course did my research. In the diligent pursuit of knowledge, I discovered a new word. I had never heard of the word before and it puzzled me. After percolating on it for awhile, I had another one of my many “Ha, Cha” moments. The word I learned is “Presenteeism.” I would like to share with you the awareness I had with that word.

The definition of Presenteeism is: When an employee shows up for work who is physically present, but not fully accounted for mentally or emotionally. Think about that. How many times can you recall when you were at work but your mind was focused on a different issue or situation and you were unable to really be present in the moment? Sometimes as someone was talking, the words went in one ear and out the other because your mind was blocked with your own thoughts. Or, you were a tad edgy and became testy with a co-worker or customer. I know for myself, I have had many bouts of Presenteeism from time to time.

There are four main causes for this insidious disease. It can be because of health issues like allergies, migraines and stress. It can be from personal issues like the care of a child, an elderly parent or financial issues. It can be related to work like dissatisfaction with your position, not getting a promotion or knowing you should be doing something else with your life. The final issue is our relationship in the four areas of our lives. It is this last condition that I work with companies on and I am writing about today.

Presenteeism is a very costly bug to have. According to the Harvard Business Review, Presenteeism costs American business $150 billion dollars annually. To compare that number, in 2006 the total profit for all Fortune 500 companies was $785 billion. Presenteeism also accounts for 61% of an employee’s total lost productivity and medical costs. In a study by CCH Human Resources they found that the costs of decreased productivity are 7.5 times greater then costs due to absenteeism. This translates into an approximate average loss in productivity due to Presenteeism of $3287 per employee per year. If you have a company with 1000 employees, that is $ 3.2 million dollars of lost productivity per year. No small potatoes in that number.

So, what is the major cause of this infectious disease that cost American businesses so much lost profits from decreased productivity. Great question! In my research I found that relationship issues are by far the greatest cause. In regards to personal relationships, a study found that conflicted relationships impact productivity more then all of the following combined; death in the family, serious illness, problems with children, caring for the elderly, substance abuse and depression.

Not to bore you with too many facts, I just have to throw out a few more. A person with high marital distress will lose over 38 more days of work per year than someone with average marital stress. In the year following divorce, employees lost an average of over 168 hours of work time. This equals 4 weeks in one calendar year. Heck, how many of us take that must vacation time.

Another study discovered these sad facts. Unhappily married couples are almost four times more likely to have a partner abusing alcohol than happily married couples and employees in failing relationships are more likely to resort to physical abuse or violence to resolve tensions at home.

The major cause of conflict in relationships is reactivity which is the release of emotional energy exhibited by inappropriate, destructive or toxic words, actions and behaviors. Presenteeism in regards to relationship issues occurs when someone has an unresolved conflict at home, at work and / or within themselves.

When someone is in conflict in a relationship, they will inevitably begin acting on the negative information and energy and the resultant reactivity infects all areas of their lives. They become preoccupied, distracted and lose the ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand. When people are in conflict, they create negative energy within themselves and then project the energy towards co-workers, customers, significant others or their children If conflict occurs in any of the areas of relationships, the person will be inflicted by the Presenteeism bug at both home and at work. When this happens they will be unable to successfully communicate, connect, and manage conflicts in all relationships. All of this leads to dollars lost due to decreased productivity.

How about those lucky few who have happy and successful relationships? The Corporate Resource Council found that workers in happy relationships exhibit reduced job turnover rates, have lower rates of absenteeism and presenteeism, and are generally considered more dependable, cooperative and motivated. As S. Truett Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A once said, “You can’t expect people to do well in their business if they’ve got problems at home.”

So what new awareness’s have we learned about this new word “Presenteeism?” First, Presenteeism can have a major impact on the financial health of a business. Also, a major cause of Presenteeism is the quality of one’s relationship within themselves and with others. All four of a person’s relationship areas are interconnected and people who enjoy relationship success are more peaceful, present, positive, proactive and productive at work.

The question from the journey is: Has the Presenteeism Bug infected your workplace?{social}

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