Return to site

Are your employees sick?

5 ways to address presenteeism


By Kelly Prentice, Wellness Coach at Bija Initiative


· healthcare

If you run a business, it's no secret, absenteeism is a zinger. Costs to your business could include loss of productivity, profits, and success. Don’t have that problem, you say? Did you know presenteeism could be worse?

What’s presenteeism? I had never heard of it.

It’s when employees come to work sick. It could be, because they don’t have enough paid time off to spare. Or perhaps they’ve had to stay home with a sick child. Other times, it’s more about looking like top dog. Or perhaps they are feeling anxious about losing their job.

Chronic illnesses such as allergies, fibromyalgia, and depression take a toll on anyone. When it affects your employees, it can make their work a lot less productive (and less accurate). Bigger mistakes are made when someone is in pain or distress, and he/she can’t focus with clarity, creativity, and foresight.

Would you believe, experts say presenteeism is costing your company vastly more in loss of productivity and profit?

Well-publicized studies have estimated the nationwide costs of ailments in the U.S workplace. Two articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association a decade ago reported that depression set U.S. employers back $35 billion a year in reduced performance at work; and that pain conditions such as arthritis, headaches, and back problems cost nearly $47 billion. In a survey of 29,000 working adults suffering from depression and/or pain, dubbed the American Productivity Audit—Walter F. (“Buzz”) Stewart, a director of the Center for Health Research & Rural Advocacy at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania calculated the cost of presenteeism in the United States to be more than $150 billion per year.

$150 billion?

Estimates vary, but some suggest that presenteeism accounts for 75 percent of productivity loss, while absenteeism represents the balance. Our society's drive to work at all costs, even when sick, is killing our competitive edge, productivity, and creativity. More than that, it’s killing our happiness!

Take a look. Is your copywriter sniffling down the hall? Is the VP dragging himself to a meeting when he should be lying down? Does the receptionist run back and forth to the bathroom? How many of these illnesses are preventable? What can we do to shift the perception that people should tough it out, and show up even if they’re sick?

Let’s find a solution. When you take a look at most of these health issues, at the root of the problem is stress. It’s a fact that 75 percent of doctor visits are related to stress. Deepak Chopra has identified stress as the number one epidemic of our civilization—directly or indirectly connected to every other disease, costing us about 3.2 trillion dollars a year.

Here’s the good news: you can make an impact! We can work together to address our nation’s health care issues, with 80% of all heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes attributed to poor lifestyle choices. It’s a small investment with enormous reward, since addressing stress is the most tangible way to tackle presenteeism. Here’s some tactics that have worked:

  1. Probably the number one way to indicate a change of culture is by example. So, when you are feeling sick and tired, let your employees know you’re going home to rest. When another coworker is not well, offer up a wellness solution such as sending them to the doctor or home. Start to turn the stale workaholic belief system on its head. (For more history on how we got here, see my blog “Why Yoga in the Workplace?”)
  2.  Support employees’ physical health in direct ways that will lower their stress levels. A program of yoga and/or nutrition can be delivered to your office door, in any space, at any time you choose. Unlike a weight lifting routine, it’s completely mobile and accessible to every employee.
  3. Bring meditation to your office—meditation has been proven to address the root cause of chronic disease. It also helps you get in touch with your inner self. Through meditation, you don’t force items out of your mind, you acknowledge their presence and allow them to dissipate.
  4. Support employees’ emotional health by taking the time to learn what they value most, and then using that inventory to show them appreciation, and how much you care.
  5. If you’re a techie, try emWave technology, which teaches employees how to measure their own cortisol—a stress hormone—and heart rate variability, and instruct them on how to control both to remain “in the zone” at work.

Connecting with your most valuable asset, your employees, is essential today. Consider this a phenomenal opportunity—really a responsibility—to influence human health and wellness. In the U.S., work takes up the majority of our time and influences our sense of purpose, making it a major driver in how good we feel about our lives overall. So it’s imperative that business owners address presenteeism, to help employees thrive, be healthy, happy, and creative.


For your own personalized yoga, meditation, and wellness program, contact me today at!

All Posts

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!