Presenteeism still a problem as pandemic continues

Huge new survey finds working dads among the best at resisting presenteeism but not embracing flexible working as much as anticipated

Young male in suit and holding his head in his hands in front of a computer and a huge stack of papers


Working dads are resisting presenteeism and increasingly likely to adopt flexible working according to a global workforce study.

The survey of 11,000 workers looked at how employees are coping with Covid enforced changes to the world of work. It also asked about their hopes for the future.

The most eye catching finding was the persistence of presenteeism. Many workers still feel pressure to turn up to work, even when government guidelines insist they must stay at home. The global nature of the research makes it harder to determine what might be driving that. For example the US business culture and weak social security system is likely to have an impact there. Sixteen percent of UK workers said they still feel their bosses want them in the office. Though that figure is down from earlier in the pandemic.

But it’s clear older workers do not feel the need to show up unnecessarily. Two thirds of workers aged under 25 said they felt pressure to go to work. That drops to a quarter of those aged over 55.


However some working dads have reported a new form of digital presenteeism. This involves leaving a computer logged in for long hours or sending emails in the evening to give the impression of working late.

The survey was carried out by payroll services firm ADP’s Research Institute. It follows up a similar exercise they carried out in the spring as the pandemic took hold.

Jeff Phipps, Managing Director, ADP UK, comments: “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.”

Flexible working

The report also provides hints as to the shape of the flexible working revolution. The proportion of firms with a flexible working policy has jumped from around a quarter to nearly half. However employees are still reticent to use those policies. 21% of men said they felt empowered to use a flexible working policy compared to 16% of women. Yet in the UK far more working mums than working dads currently have flexible working arrangements.

Many respondents cited the importance of line managers. While companies may have put policies in place employees reported that adopting flexible working and making it a success often depends on your line manager.

Adapting fast

Jeff Phipps comments, “A huge leap forward has been made on flexible working in a very short space of time. Employers are adapting fast as COVID-19 has disrupted the traditional nine-to-five, workplace-based model. It may be borne out of necessity, but this shift could well be here to stay, even when offices re-open.

“While ongoing social distancing requirements are a significant factor, this is also due to a change in attitudes. It’s becoming increasingly clear to employers that not everyone needs to be at work during set hours to do a good job.

“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.”

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