by Bill, Management

It’s Time to Revisit Absenteeism and Presenteeism

3 Comments 04 December 2012

Having recently spent two hours on a plane seated next to a fellow who was clearly too ill to be in confined space with others, I was reminded that the time of year when germ transmission and attendant illness ramps up is again upon us. For many of us, between sneezes, our attention turns to discussion of worker attendance, absenteeism, and presenteeism.

Our view is that organizations should be working on both ends of the job attendance equation. While the average worker experiences a relatively modest 3 days per year of unscheduled health-attributed absence, there is a growing number of chronic malingerers whose absenteeism rate is 5 to 10 times greater. Owing to a managerial workforce that is less well trained than ever, many managers quite simply don’t know how to deal with it.

And yes, on the other side of the coin, “presenteeism” is very much an issue, both with those who come to work when they shouldn’t, and those who are sick of work because it follows them home (and wherever else they go).

Worker attendance is at once both a human and a business issue that profoundly impacts the bottom line. Hence, it deserves fresh thought. A few starters…

  1. Give workers more choice and flexibility with work scheduling. As but one example, older workers usually find that they perform better when afforded fairly constant schedules and consecutive days of rest.
  2. Explore ways to afford your workers (all of them) better, more affordable access to health care (as opposed to health insurance).
  3. Crack down on abusers. One of the things that most infuriates high performers is the allowance made for turkeys.
  4. Stop making people lie to you about time off. Respected studies have repeatedly suggested that roughly two-thirds of last minute sick calls are for non-medical reasons.
  5. Treat staff members like the responsible adults you thought they were when you hired them, and let them know that you expect them to behave accordingly. Tell them that you will respect their judgment if they elect to stay home due to illness, and that if they have a communicable disease or malady, you most certainly don’t want them sharing it with co-workers.
  6. Take a hard look at the economic side of presenteeism, and the fact that in an increasing number of cases (health care and hospitality industries in particular), people are bringing their germs to work because they can’t afford not to. Achoo!


A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at



- who has written 238 posts on Contented Cows.

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3 Comments so far

  1. ZJ Hanratty says:

    Good article. But I have 2 questions: 1. You say “Explore ways to afford your workers (all of them) better, more affordable access to health care (as opposed to health insurance).” But you don’t offer any solutions as to how. I would love to be able to do this for my employees, but my question – How? 2: Item number 6. I agree – we shouldn’t make it economically unattractive for folks to stay home when they’re sick. I’m a small business, about 110 employees. I haven’t been able to figure out how to make that work. Any specific ideas to share? Thanks! ZJ

  2. Bill Catlette says:

    Thanks, ZJ for your kind words and your questions.

    Re health care access, here’s one idea: Employers are, in increasing numbers, either on their own, or in affiliation with like-minded businesses, contracting with medical practices and care clinics to provide non-surgical outpatient care for their workers. It can be as good a deal for the physician or medical practice that is resisting being rolled up by a hospital or insurance company as it is for the employer. The end result is that workers (and their families) get affordable care when they need it, and worker distraction and absenteeism go down.

    Re Sick Days: There is no silver bullet solution. That said, on the premises that sick people recover quicker and don’t affect as many coworkers and customers when they treat an illness or injury properly, using economic pressure to force people to work when they shouldn’t is a fool’s errand. I have urged clients to consider awarding modest paid sick time to employees after an initial post-hire qualification period (e.g., 6-12 months). Teaching managers how to coach employees for better performance in this area will pay for a lot of those sick days and drive down unscheduled absence rates.


  3. google says:

    There’s definately a great deal to find out about this issue.

    I like all of the points you made.

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Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

OUR PREMISE: Having a focused, engaged, and capably led workforce is one of the best things any organization can do for its bottom line.


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