Presenteeism may be more rife than ever, and we – as leaders – need to ensure no-one is left behind in managing it.

“I felt like I had to keep working. I’d work most evenings until late, sometimes until 11pm”.
“I don’t want to take my holiday because there’s nothing to do. I want to save it until we can get out and do something”.
“The business keeps telling us to switch off but at the same time, my line manager keeps asking me to check-in”.

These are just a few experiences and stories I’ve heard over the last few months from younger employees unclear that they’re the victims of presenteeism rearing its ugly head.

Just when you think remote working has radically changed our working lives, you realise there are still traces of old attitudes still getting in the way of progress.

Peter Cheese, head of the CIPD, said when businesses began to realise the true benefits of remote working it was ‘a moment of real change in the world of work’.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the impact has been significant.

Just look at how HR and People teams stepped in, moved entire workforces online, designed and developed engagement plans… all whilst ensuring business as usual as much as they can.

Oh, and whilst juggling all their own stuff at home.

Let’s not also forget how remote working has enabled people to apply for roles previously restricted because of their location, not to mention “bosses are starting to shift towards judging output, rather than the number of hours spent in front of the computer”.

The progress has been immense, but – and it’s a big but – you can’t just get rid of these dated attitudes around what it takes to be ‘engaged and productive’ at work.

Let’s face it, the UK has always had a bit of a reputation problem when it comes to presenteeism.

We’ve always been made to feel bad if you need to phone in sick. You must soldier on and work even if you’ve got a cold/flu/an arm falling off. And, let’s not forget the performance systems in some places which reward those who work late or at weekends.

As someone once said to me: “how can you really climb the career ladder if you leave the office bang on 5:30?”

(Remove the physical bricks and mortar office and that disappears, right?)

The reason I am sharing this with you is because we as leaders need to understand the different ways presenteeism can manifest itself in the online world.

The reality of presenteeism and remote working:


To top this all off, this is most prevalent in younger staff. 

Those who are those earlier on in their careers. Our future workforce, the future leaders. Sadly, those businesses still piling on that pressure can’t be surprised if their workforces burn out.

If the office version of presenteeism was showing your boss you’re still in by leaving your computer on, what does it look like from a remote perspective?

Signs of presenteeism in your younger workforce:


Here are some exchanges that highlight potential challenges you may wish to dig a bit deeper into:

They’ll say: ‘I’m feeling under the weather, I won’t take calls, but I’ll do that report instead’.
Challenge: If individuals are working regularly when they’re ill; they may have an inability to let go.


They’ll say: ‘Yeah, I will get around to it, but I’ve got to check again with Simon’.
Challenge: They’re exhausted, they’re beginning to get short in exchanges. They’re working all hours because of the pressure of it all.


They will say: ‘Yes! Great idea, I will sort this tomorrow’ – acknowledges email on non-working day.
Challenge: They’re checking emails out of core hours (also known as technological presenteeism).

What’s being done about it?

The good news is that nearly half of employers surveyed (41%) have introduced measures to support struggling employees, according to Canada Life. But sometimes you don’t necessarily know that there’s a problem.

Here are some of the ways we’ve seen employers demonstrate positive behaviours to reduce presenteeism and remote working challenges:

> Tackle micro-managers.
Let’s say you know Simon in Operations was prone to micromanaging before all this. Make sure to check in with them and understand how they are communicating with their team. They may be putting unnecessary pressure on, without realising the implications.

> Ensure senior management practice good working practices.
Let’s say you send an email on a Sunday. Even if you don’t expect an answer there and then, the fact you sent it may send a signal that that’s acceptable.

> Bias: avoid rewarding behaviours that feed into bad habits.
Try not to reward behaviours such as working too late and not switching off. Rewarding hours worked only makes sense for repetitive tasks, not creative or problem-solving challenges.

> Educate them on why taking their holiday and a break from their screen is important.
There’s a chance that younger workers don’t get the importance of stepping away from the screen. They don’t know how to rewrite the boundary line between work/home life.