absenteeism in the workplace

Absenteeism is a major workforce challenge affecting employers from all industries in every corner of the world. Just one employee’s absence in the workplace can lead to increased costs, reduced productivity and diminished quality. While eliminating absenteeism altogether is impossible because unexpected illnesses and personal issues are going to occur, employers can take steps to diminish the negative impact it has on the workplace.


what is absenteeism?

We can define absenteeism as an employee’s habitual unplanned absence from work that extends beyond an acceptable rate. While each company sets its own standards for acceptable absenteeism, many employers consider it to be habitual when an employee misses more work than the number of paid time off and sick days it provides.

These unexplained absences can create added pressures in the workplace, as managers try to find a replacement or take on more work themselves. As you can imagine, higher levels of absenteeism can lead to higher labor costs that include more overtime pay, decreased quality as the workforce is stretched thin and lower retention rates due to workplace burnout.

It’s crucial to track and monitor absenteeism in your workplace because it could be a sign of underlying problems, such as poor workplace morale, a bad manager or a toxic work environment. The sooner you’re able to identify any problems, the faster your company can work to resolve these issues.

Womale sitting at her desk, looking away from computer screens displaying marketing content.
Womale sitting at her desk, looking away from computer screens displaying marketing content.

main causes of absenteeism in the workplace

There are a number of reasons why your workplace may be experiencing high levels of absenteeism. Some of the causes may be out of your control. For example, absenteeism rates skyrocketed during the pandemic due to illnesses, school closures and workers’ anxiety. Either way, it’s important to understand what factors may be causing excessive absenteeism in your workplace, so you can create a plan to bring these levels down to an acceptable rate.

Here's a look at the most common causes of chronic absenteeism at work.

physical illnesses and injuries

Two of the most common reasons for unexpected absences are illnesses and injuries. It’s quite common for employees to call off work when they are sick or injured. When these types of absences become excessive, it can be quite costly. In fact, this problem is so prevalent that illness-related absences cost businesses over $575 billion a year in the United States alone.

Unfortunately, some illnesses, such as the flu, can spread quickly throughout the workplace resulting in multiple employees calling off at the same time. This, in turn, puts an extra burden on other workers and can lead to frustration and burnout, and can diminish the quality of your goods or services. 

On one hand, you don’t want employees coming to work sick. This practice can not only make other workers sick but can also lead to presenteeism, which can cause lost productivity if these sick employees are not working up to speed. So, you want to encourage workers to take off when they are too sick to work. On the other hand, if you have an employee who is constantly calling off sick, it’s important to get to the root of the problem. Perhaps, they need to take an extended period of time off work to deal with their issues. This step can allow you to bring in a temporary worker until your permanent employee is well enough to return.

workplace burnout

Employee burnout is a real phenomenon impacting workplaces around the globe. Burnout has always been an issue for high-demand, high-stress roles, but today even workers in lower-level positions with fewer responsibilities are feeling burnout at work. While levels of burnout in the workplace may have hit all-time highs during the pandemic, a recent Microsoft study that surveyed workers across 11 countries shows that more than half of the workers still feel burned out at work.

This type of burnout can lead to unexpected absences as workers need time off. Additionally, burnout can lead to other issues, such as poor performance, diminished job satisfaction and higher turnover rates.

harassment at work

According to a global study with surprising results, nearly one in five employees state that they have experienced some form of harassment or violence in the workplace. This is an incredible statistic that employers just can’t ignore. No one wants to work in a toxic environment where they don’t feel safe. To avoid being harassed on a daily basis, wrongfully treated employees may choose to call off work instead. It’s important to identify toxic problems in the workplace as quickly as possible. Consider conducting frequent surveys to allow employees to provide anonymous feedback and developing a clear policy for reporting and investigating workplace harassment or violence complaints.

mental health in the workplace

Over the past decade, the world has seen a 13% increase in the number of people with mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse. This increase also contributes to the rise of absenteeism in the workplace since many people struggling with these illnesses require more time off to deal with the effects. It’s important to identify employees who may be struggling with a type of mental illness in the workplace to ensure they receive the extra support and services they need to be successful on the job.

work-life balance

Workers from all walks of life often struggle with the ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Just as work responsibilities sometimes conflict with personal duties, there are times when personal responsibilities interfere with work. For example, caring for sick children or elderly parents may force some workers to call off unexpectedly. Doctor and counseling appointments are other reasons why workers may need to call out. Consider developing new workplace policies that allow workers to develop a work schedule that promotes a healthy work-life balance. For example, setting clear policies for sick days and paid time off can allow workers to use other strategies rather than calling off work at the last minute. 

explore new job opportunities

The hard truth is that sometimes your workers are calling off to look for another job. For example, your employees may be absent from work to have a job interview, attend a job fair or meet with a recruiter.  In fact, according to our 2022 Randstad Workmonitor, 70% of workers are open to exploring new job options if the right opportunity arises. While this cause of absenteeism can be frustrating, it can be hard to detect and lead to higher turnover rates.

Learn more about the core causes behind high absenteeism in the workplace and how to manage them.

read the article

measuring absenteeism

Absenteeism can be an extremely costly workforce problem that can lead to higher production costs, increased employee turnover rates, diminished workplace morale and reduced profits for the company. To minimize the impact of absenteeism, it’s important to maintain an absence tracker to determine the company’s absenteeism rate. This step allows you to identify any potential work absenteeism issues quickly and develop a plan to combat the problem.

While you can track employee attendance in both excused and unexcused absences from work, only unexcused absences are typically used when calculating absenteeism. Start by setting acceptable standards for the company. This factor varies greatly based on industry, location and company policies and may need to be adjusted later if needed. This step, however, provides the company with a base level to determine if an absenteeism problem exists in the company as well as a goal level when creating strategies for combating chronic absenteeism in the workplace.

You can use the following formula to calculate the absence rate for your company.

(# of days/hours/periods of absences / # of available days/hours/periods) * 100 =  absence rate

For example, let’s say Tom had 3 unexcused absences in April. His absence rate is 10% ((3 days / 30 days) * 100). Since this rate is higher than what you might consider acceptable, it’s time to discuss this problem with Tom. You can also use this formula to measure the absence rate for the entire company, various departments or different locations. This step can help you quickly identify absenteeism issues in the company. 

Group of colleagues sitting in a meeting room.
Group of colleagues sitting in a meeting room.

impact of absenteeism in the workplace

Not only can absenteeism be extremely frustrating for managers who must find replacements and other workers who may have to work overtime, but it can also affect the company as a whole. Here’s a look at just some of the ways absenteeism impacts the workplace and the company.

lost productivity due to absenteeism

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, unexpected absences in the workplace are costing U.S. companies more than $225 billion a year. Even worse is that these costs are expected to rise globally in the upcoming years. For example, the Centre of Economic and Business Research predicts that UK business losses due to unexpected absences will rise from $18 billion in 2017 to over $28 billion by 2030.

These are increasing costs that employers can’t afford, especially at a time when inflation concerns and the tight labor market are already straining many organizations. These costs include production delays, safety issues, diminished quality control and an increase in overtime hours as workers not calling off excessively must work more hours to compensate for high levels of absenteeism.

absenteeism leads to higher turnover

It shouldn’t come as any surprise to learn that high levels of absenteeism can lead to increased turnover rates. This correlation can occur for several reasons. First, employees who are coming to work every day can become quite frustrated when they repeatedly have to handle the extra workload when another employee is absent from work. Secondly, consistent and mandatory overtime requirements can significantly interfere with workers' ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance. 

Find out more about the connection between absenteeism and reduced productivity.

read the article

steps for preventing absenteeism

The good news is that your company doesn’t have to just settle with higher than acceptable levels of absenteeism. Instead, there are several steps you can take today to combat this issue and minimize the impact it has on your workforce and the company’s bottom line.

identify specific causes behind absenteeism

The first step to combating absenteeism is to identify the specific reasons why it’s plaguing your workplace. The number of causes listed above represents the most common reasons for absenteeism, but that doesn’t mean that there may not be other factors impacting your workplace. For example, maybe high levels of absenteeism in your workplace are linked to just one or two departments. This could signify a potential issue with a specific manager or safety concerns in one area of the workplace.

The best way to determine why your employees are missing work is to ask them. Consider conducting employee surveys or holding one-on-one interviews to find out why employees are calling off work unexpectedly. This data can help you develop an absenteeism strategy that is tailored to meet the unique needs of your workers.

revamp company policies

If your company is experiencing higher than desired levels of absenteeism at work, it may be time to revamp the company policies. Today’s employees want more flexibility in their work schedule. In fact, our research shows that 83% of workers want a work schedule that allows them to meet personal obligations.

First, evaluate the number of sick and personal days your company allocates to employees each year. Make sure your offerings are competitive with other employers in your industry and location. If you find that you’re not offering the same level of personal and sick days as many other employers in your area, you may need to consider increasing these numbers to meet the demands of today’s workers. Otherwise, you may see both absenteeism and turnover rates continue to rise.

Secondly, assess your company’s policy for excused and unexcused absences. Make sure the policies are clear as to what steps employees need to take when calling out for the day. For example, do your employees need to call at least three hours in advance when calling off work? Also, be sure the company has clear policies for taking extended periods of time off for personal and family medical issues. Finally, check with the legal department to make sure these policies comply with all local and national labor laws.

improve employee engagement

Studies show that high levels of employee engagement in the workplace can help to reduce absenteeism. Taking steps to improve engagement throughout the workplace can boost job satisfaction and make your employees want to come to work every day rather than entice them to call off. Steps like enhanced communication, frequent feedback and career development can help to improve engagement with your workers.

Also, consider training your managers to serve as a coach for your workers. You want managers who know your workers, who understand their strengths and weaknesses and who can detect potential issues as soon as they arise. This type of coach-employee relationship can help to prevent absenteeism in the first place.

create a culture of recognition

Developing a culture of recognition is one of the best things you can do to boost workplace morale, increase retention rates and reduce absenteeism. Employees want to know that they are doing a good job, that they are a valuable part of the team and that the company is invested in them. Both supervisor-to-employee and peer-to-peer recognition are important forms of recognition that today’s employees desire.

To build a culture of recognition that can drive lower absenteeism rates, it must be meaningful, consistent and fair. Annual performance reviews are not going to be enough. Instead, invest in technology that allows managers and peers to provide recognition in a matter of minutes. This type of instant recognition can bring about lasting results.

invest in employee wellness

If the global pandemic taught us anything, it’s the value of personal wellness, both at home and at work. To prevent high levels of absenteeism at work, you should help your employees create a sense of overall wellbeing. Consider offering a variety of wellness perks, such as discounted gym memberships, telehealth counseling sessions, meetings with a career coach and child and eldercare subsidies. These perks can encourage your workers to take better care of themselves which results in fewer missed days from work.

Additionally, add some flexibility to your workers’ schedules, if possible. This practice can allow your workers to take care of their personal responsibilities while still having time to complete all their work duties.