Health Now

Presenteeism In NZ: The 2023 Snapshot And How It’s Affecting Your Business

In a press release issued in June 2023, over half of Kiwi employees surveyed claimed to still show up to work when they feel sick. Whether it’s the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude, the pressure of an increasing workload (which was the case for over half of those surveyed) or something else – presenteeism in the workplace feels like it’s only growing – and with the cost of living crisis, it comes as little surprise.  

Presenteeism describes the scenario where employees are physically present at their workplace but not functioning at their full capacity because of illness or medical conditions. And as we know, when we don’t feel great, it’s almost impossible to perform at our best, often watching the clock and counting down to the moment when we can head home to rest and recover. While it’s easy to think that the effort to make it in when you’re feeling unwell is something appreciated and looked fondly upon by employers, the reality is that it can cut your personal productivity by one-third or even more – having a flow-on effect on others in your workplace, as well as your team’s ability to hit targets and remain profitable, depending on your industry. 

There’s a good reason that New Zealand increased their sick leave entitlement from 5 to 10 days in 2021, and it’s important to use it so your health doesn’t continue to deteriorate. Unfortunately, in New Zealand, even with this leave entitlement increase, one in six survey respondents confirmed that they continue to come to work because they’ve used up their sick leave and have no choice but to attend work in order to pay their bills and support their families. With businesses and their employees clearly struggling with the complex issue of presenteeism, it raises a good question: what can businesses and employees be doing to be more proactive about their health, in a way that’s financially viable in today’s economy?


What Contributes To Presenteeism?

Unlike absenteeism, presenteeism can be harder to identify. It’s easy to notice that someone is absent from work, but it’s difficult to tell when, or how much poor physical or mental health is hindering performance. It’s not just a bug that leads to presenteeism either, with major contributors including: 

  • Sleep difficulties
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Back pain and arthritis 
  • Depression and high stress 
  • Poor nutrition
  • Muscle-skeletal conditions
  • Alcohol and smoking 
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Obesity
  • Financial concerns
  • Stomach upsets 


The Impacts Of Presenteeism

You don’t have to look hard around the workplace to see the additional challenges that an unwell employee faces, typically taking longer than normal to complete standard tasks, needing to repeat tasks due to oversights, a lack of focus or accidental lapses in judgement, and being more likely to make errors or produce work that isn’t up to their usual quality. 

Interestingly, occupations that have a high degree of human interaction, such as healthcare providers and educators, have been found to exhibit the highest rates of presenteeism – with rates among physicians being as high as 90%. Given the important role that physicians play in the diagnosis and management of patients, any accidental errors can lead to bigger complications – and general productivity loss can lead to longer waiting times and frustrations by all – an issue that has been highlighted in New Zealand media recently.


Moreover, presenteeism has significant financial implications:

  • In the UK, it’s estimated that presenteeism costs businesses over £15.1 billion each year in presenteeism related to mental health concerns alone.
  • Harvard Business Review estimates that presenteeism costs the U.S. economy more than US$150 billion a year in lost productivity, far surpassing absenteeism costs, and workers struggling with anxiety and depression are expected to make up a significant portion of this loss. 
  • Two studies carried out by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the on-the-job productivity loss resulting from depression and pain was roughly three times greater than the productivity lost due to absenteeism arising from these conditions. That is, less time was lost from people staying home than from them showing up but not performing at the top of their game.
  • One study investigated the impact of irritable bowel syndrome on presenteeism. It found that at least 10% of workers suffer from the condition, and that flare-ups reduced workers’ on-the-job productivity by around 20% across a wide range of clerical and executive jobs. “People show up for work, but with the pain—not to mention frequent trips to the bathroom—they’re just not very productive.”

Helping Reduce Presenteeism With Employer Aid

With research showing that presenteeism costs employers significantly more than direct medical care, it’s no surprise that many Kiwi employers are now adding a valuable company benefit to their list: employer aid.

Employer aid is delivered as a payment to an employee’s dedicated health account via the HealthNow app, which can only be used on health and medical-related services and products both in a reactive (responding directly to existing illnesses and injuries) and preventative capacity (allowing employees to take preventative steps to care for their health before they become unwell or their circumstances worsen). 

The funds, the quantity of which are chosen by the employer, are available for employees to use throughout the year in much the same way they use a digital card on their phone, working at any eftpos terminal where Mastercard is accepted. Employees have control over which health services to spend their funds on within the health service categories approved by the employer, and available within HealthNow’s service suite. Businesses are not charged for any funds that are unused by their employees at the end of their annual period.

Operating across New Zealand and the US, HealthNow makes offering employer aid easy and simple by welcoming you into their AI-driven platform and international technology that delivers a custom solution to your business – HealthNow designs your employer aid based on your needs and requirements. The onboarding process for employer aid is free and easy, and you receive impact statements that give you a breakdown of how the funds are being spent, to best help you direct health initiatives in the future.


Ready to take the next step to effectively supporting your employees to look after their health? Get started with HealthNow today.


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