the opposite of presenteeism

If the problem of presenteeism existed before the pandemic, I can’t imagine things have gotten better.

Before the pandemic even hit the western hemisphere, Forbes reported:

Employers who have struggled with employee turnover in recent years may experience a bit of a reprieve. According to data from Achievers, just 35% of employees are planning to look for a new job, a drastic decrease from the 74% who answered affirmatively to the same question last year.

But not so fast. Don’t confuse the fact that your employees have no immediate plans to leave as a sign of their loyalty or engagement. On the contrary, the same study found that only 21% of employees report that they are highly engaged at work. They’re just there for the paycheck, which means they’re doing enough to avoid being fired but aren’t likely to go above and beyond their primary responsibilities.

The article goes on to refer to a post on the LinkedIn Learning blog that offers a way to calculate what employee disengagement is costing companies and organizations. It ain’t pretty:

Gallup describes an actively disengaged worker as someone who is “unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to coworkers.” In other words, they are people who don’t like their job and aren’t afraid to let others know about it.

Gallup also found that an actively disengaged employee costs their organization $3,400 for every $10,000 of salary, or 34 percent. That means an actively disengaged employee who makes $60,000 a year costs their company $20,400 a year!

(As an aside, consider that data show that increasing a disengaged employee’s salary is unlikely to make them more engaged; instead, that employee will then be costing you more money!)

presenteeism at work

Disengagement is a form of presenteeism: being present at work but not working to full capacity—only slightly better than absenteeism, actually taking the day off?

In May of 2019, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Classification of Diseases, 11th Revision (ICD-11) clearly defined burnout for the first time:

Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

That second bullet point speaks directly to presenteeism: increased disengagement from one’s job.

And I would argue that the following text, also from WHO, is a grave tactical error:

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.

In my mind, the person who shows up at work is exactly the same person who shows up at home—and during the past 18+ months of the pandemic, we’ve seen just how true that is!

presenteeism on the home front

As a workshop presenter for corporations and organizations, I’ve facilitated a lot of Zoom calls on which participants disengage because a child needs help with virtual school. And as a private coach, I’ve seen the opposite happen as well—working from home has made it harder for my clients to remain present in their sessions as bosses’ and coworkers’ needs invade their private time with increasing regularity.

As the line between home and work gets ever blurrier, my clients find it more and more difficult to be present in their own lives: everyone else’s needs come first.

presenteeism on the health front

What we have here is a failure to engage—on all fronts! And one of the most important areas from which we’ve disengaged is our personal health.

Quick! Where do you get your health advice and information?

If you’re like most Americans, you’ll say:

  • My doctors/alternative practitioners
  • Friends and family
  • The guru du jour—whether it’s a celebrity or a true expert
  • Books, articles, blog posts (the irony does not escape me)
  • And of course, Drs. Google and Bing.

In other words, we have turned our most precious asset over to outsiders.

I’m not saying you should not go to the doctor—I’m saying that you know yourself better than any doctor, and you probably know your children better than the doctor does, too. It’s your right to see a doctor when you know you need to—and to advocate for yourself once you’re there.

I remember taking my daughter to the pediatrician with a fever, only to have the doctor greet me with, “What’s her temperature?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t take it.”

“Then how do you know she has a fever?!?”


  1. Her hands and feet and back are hot to the touch.
  2. Her eyes look funny.
  3. She woke up 3 times during the night, and she never does that unless she’s getting sick.”

Glares and eyerolls and mutters and a thermometer followed. Sure enough, 103ºF.

It’s okay, though, I know I was one of those mothers: I was (and am) engaged with my family’s health, and I listened to my intuition.

the opposite of presenteeism

What’s the cost of our disengagement with our personal health? Read just about any story about current health/disease trends, and you’ll see the answer: the cost is our personal health. We are living in an age when the life span of our children will be shorter than our own.

Last week, I posted that I was going to walk you through the process my clients go through when reclaiming their health—the one that I abbreviate as EAT. The E in the acronym stands for Engage—and engagement is the opposite of presenteeism.

I start by asking my clients to engage their intuition—their inner wisdom—to determine what their health goals are. Not based on what anyone else says they “should” do but on what deep down, they know is right for them, right now—because health goals will vary by person and will shift over time.

Next, I ask them to engage their inner wisdom once more to figure out how they’re going to reach those goals because again—the “why” behind their intention, the goal itself, and the journey they will take to get there has to fit them perfectly, or it’s not going to work.

Some choose to start by increasing their physical activity; others decide to shift their eating habits and/or food choices; still others may try developing a mindfulness or breathing practice. Everyone has their one gateway to health. If yours is not physical activity, me telling you that you will start moving your body more every day is just not sustainable—for either of us!

I want you engaged—no presenteeism allowed.

And I guarantee this: once you become more present for yourself and your own needs, you will become more capable of being present at work. Engagement with your intuition is the first step to being well while doing good.

make the connection

Interested in learning more about the EAT™ process, whether it’s for your personal health or the health of your team? Join me for a free Zoom workshop on the topic! Three times to choose from—follow the link to register: