Objective: Although several studies have demonstrated a relationship between staff engagement and health and wellbeing, none has analysed the association with presenteeism in the National Health Service (NHS) context. Our aim is to determine whether there is a relationship between presenteeism and staff engagement. Methods: A hierarchical logistic multilevel modelling of cross-sectional data from the NHS staff survey (2009) was conducted. We controlled for a range of demographic and socioeconomic background variables, including ethnic group, gender, age and occupational group. The sample was 156,951 respondents across all 390 English NHS trusts, each providing a random sample of employees. Engagement was measured using three facets: motivation, advocacy and involvement, which were also used in a composite score. Results: Therewas a low-to-moderate negative correlation between presenteeismand staff engagement: odds ratio 0.42 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.42-0.43) for overall staff engagement and 0.53 (95% CI 0.52-0.54) for staff advocacy of the trust; 0.53 (95% CI 0.52-0.54) for motivation and 0.50 (95% CI 0.49-0.51) for involvement. Conclusions: Putting pressure on health-care staff to come to work when unwell is associated with poorer staff engagement with their jobs. © The Royal Society of Medicine Press Ltd 2011.