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Word of the Week: ‘presenteeism’


We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘presenteeism’.


In the midst of Stress Awareness Month, it seems fitting that research charting the rise in ‘presenteeism’ in the workplace has made headlines. 

The ‘Britain’s Healthiest Workplace’ study conducted by insurance company Vitality, found more than 40% of employees said their work was being affected by health problems – a figure that’s risen in the last five years.

To put that into context, the study found that this costs British business a whopping £61 billion a year – a fact we can attribute to the phrase ‘presenteeism cost’ becoming a breakout search term on Google Trends.

Don’t know what the meaning of ‘presenteeism’ is? Well look no further. As ever, your favourite east London content agency is on hand to get to the bottom of it – and what it means for employees everywhere.

What is the definition of ‘presenteeism’?

The definition of the noun ‘presenteeism’ is: “the practice of coming to work despite illness, injury and anxiety, often resulting in reduced productivity”. This does not, per se, include dragging yourself to the office whilst hungover – but it should!

It also describes the act of working long hours when there’s no need to, or staying late because, well, everyone else is. 

‘Presenteeism’ is taken to an extreme in Singapore, where it is thought employees stay at the office even when the work is done, simply to wait until their bosses leave. That really takes Woody Allen’s famous mantra that “80% of success in life can be attributed to simply showing up” to an entirely new level. 

The relatively new term, or ‘ism’ if you want to get technical, stems from the word ‘absenteeism’ – which means “habitual absence”. 

Finding its origins in the 1820s, ‘absenteeism’ is seemingly old news, but ‘presenteeism’, – it’s nerdy, try-hard younger sibling – is the new scourge on the modern-day workplace. 

But, why?

The evidence suggests that ‘presenteeism’ both has a serious effect on the wellbeing of employees and also threatens productivity. Put simply, if you’re staring at a screen with a raging migraine then you’ll get less done. 

So it’s a catch 22. 

The decline in productivity brought about by ‘presenteeism’ is a result of employees fearing unproductivity and driving themselves to be in the office at all times. You simply can’t win.

Big Brother is watching

The rise of ‘presenteeism’ comes as businesses are using AI to scrutinise the productivity of their own staff. According to reports, bots are analysing employees minute-by-minute behaviour, recording timing of emails and even pauses between key strokes. 

While companies who have adopted such systems claim that data is strictly used to help reduce stress and overworking – there are fears that employers will use this as a tool to boost and monitor productivity.

Essentially, being present may not be enough anymore as Big Brother assesses our behaviour in real-time.

So where does this leave us hardworking employees? To be present, or not to be present: that is the question.

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