Presenteeism has been a significant issue for employees globally during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many employees have felt pressured to return to work despite officials encouraging people to stay at home if possible.

New research by ADP Research Institute shows that presenteeism continues to plague employees despite the shift to remote working. Over half of employees globally (54 per cent) have felt pressure from their employer to return to work despite officials warning against this.

Presenteeism has been described as the “practice of being present at one’s place of work for more hours than is required, especially as a manifestation of insecurity about one’s job”.

Almost one-fifth of the UK felt this pressure at the start of the pandemic with 15 per cent of workers claiming that they initially felt pressured to go into work although not anymore.

Breaking this down by demographics, young workers were most likely to be afflicted by this pressure. Just under two-thirds (62 per cent) of 18-24 year olds felt that they were expected to come into work despite the global pandemic. However, in comparison to those aged over 55, this number dropped to a quarter (25 per cent).

Further findings showed that official policies allowing flexible working arrangements were least prevalent in the UK compared to the rest of the world. In January 2020, only 22 per cent of workers responded that their company had an official flexible working policy in place. However, by May 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, this number had only risen to 33 per cent. This is significantly less than the average of 24 per cent of workers globally stating they had a formal flexible working policy pre-COVID and 44 per cent stating they had one by May 2020.

An additional worrying trend was the rise in overtime amongst employees. On average, employees reported working an average of seven hours of unpaid overtime a week whilst, pre-COVID, this number was only six hours.

Jeff Phipps, Managing Director at ADP UK, commented on all these findings:

The idea that employers are pushing for presenteeism – even if that means going against official warnings – is worryingly widespread, and for some workers it’s a persistent issue. Presenteeism is far from a new concern and the risks have long been clear, but in the midst of a global pandemic, insistent pressure to be in the office can put employees’ lives in danger. Plus, if workers are feeling pressured to turn up for work in person, whether that pressure is real or imagined, it can have a negative impact on their wellbeing and morale.

Unfortunately, if they are not thoughtfully and sensitively managed, hybrid working models and increased flexibility can exacerbate the pressures of presenteeism. Being physically present in the office can be a great advantage when it comes to shaping culture and receiving promotions, so many may feel that they need to be in the workplace – or put in far longer hours remotely – in order to get ahead. Employers must be conscious of this when developing their long-term policies for flexible working or risk creating a disengaged, unproductive workforce.

As flexible and remote working gains traction, whether formally or informally, it’s more important than ever to have robust HR and payroll structures in place to ensure it is managed appropriately. For example, by keeping track of hours and overtime or maintaining clear communications channels, workers can stay connected with colleagues and feel supported by the business.


*These results were taken from ADP Research Institute’s report ‘The Workforce View’ which was published in November 2020. This data was collected in May 2020 and surveyed 11,000 workers in China, India, Brazil, the UK, Spain and the USA.