How many hours a day do you spend at work? Out of your total number of hours, think about your level of productivity. Were you focused and productive for all those hours? How many hours did you spend perusing the internet? How many hours did you spend thinking about your evening plans? Or being anxious about your afternoon presentation? Staring at a blank page/screen wishing you were in your bed because you feel sick?  These questions bring us to the topic of presenteeism – the act of physically attending work, but not being mentally present.

Presenteeism is a relatively new word that used regularly in workplace mental health research. When individuals who are sick go to work, they often make errors, fall behind on assignments, and produce lower quality of work. Signs and symptoms may include difficulty concentrating, lack of focus, forgetfulness, irritability, difficulty collaborating with colleagues, indecisiveness, and fatigue.  We want to emphasize that it is not possible to be fully productive for 8 consecutive hours a day, 5 days a week. This is why it is extremely important to look after your own mental health, take your lunch break and your work breaks. Breaks are important to help keep your body and mind productive and healthy. See our other posts with individual strategies on how to take care of yourself at work. To give you a comparison, on average, healthy workers lose 1.5 hours per week of productive time, whereas working individuals with depression average a loss of 5.6 hours per week (National Institute of Mental Health, 2004).

Presenteeism acts as a valuable indicator of lost productivity, albeit, challenging to measure. In a recent article from the National Post, Dave Gallson, the associate national executive director of the Mood Disorders of Canada, says presenteeism is a bigger problem than absenteeism, mostly due to the difficultly in measuring it. This article indicates presenteeism and absenteeism are a $6 billion annual problem in Canada, with the lost productivity from presenteeism estimated to be at least three times higher than from absenteeism!

Some research statistics to highlight the costs associated with lost productivity:

  • Absenteeism due to mental illness is increasing with approximately 18% of Canadian workers missing 3 or more days in the past year because of mental health issues (Ipsos Reid, 2007)
  • The cost related to absenteeism from depression is $24 billion annually (Wang, Simon, Kessler, 2003)
  • Depression and anxiety reduces a workers productivity/performance by 2.2 hours per day (Lewin Group, 2005)
  • Presenteeism productivity losses have been estimated at 4.5 billion dollars per year (Dewa, Lesage, Goering & Caveen, 2004)

Most individuals who are exhibiting presenteeism at work tend to move towards absenteeism and often take a sick or disability leave. Shockingly, mental health is now the number one disability claim in Canada (Watson Wyatt Worldwide, 2007).

So how do we tackle this? Start by taking a preventative and proactive approach in the workplace. Develop an empathetic, supportive, non-judgmental workplace culture. Educate yourself and your colleagues on mental health, advocate for manager training, and develop holistic and customized return to work policies and procedures. Check out our services to see how L&L Consulting can help raise awareness about mental health in your workplace, and maximize workplace potential!  

Contact us with your questions about presenteeism and workplace mental health, and feel free to share your thoughts below! 



Dewa, C., Lesage, A., Goering, P., Caveen, M.,. Nature and prevalence of mental illness in the workplace.Healthcare Papers. 2004;5(2): 12-29

Ipsos Reid. (2007). Mental health in the workplace. Largest study ever conducted of Canadian workplace mental health and depression.

Lewin Group. Design and administration of mental health benefits in employer sponsored health insurance – A literature review. Prepared for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. April 8, 2005.

National Institute of Mental Health. Men and depression. NIH Publication No.03-5299.04. Rockville, MD: National Institute of Mental health: 2004. Accessed 9-30-05

Wang, P., Simon, G. Kessler, R. (2003). The economic burden of depression and the cost-effectiveness of treatment. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 12, (1).

Watson Wyatt Worldwide. (2007) Staying@Work Canada report.

Kathryn, May, 2015. "Presenteeism Worse than Absenteeism?". National Post. Retrieved from: