An absence here and there doesn’t seem like a big deal, right?
Well, those absences mount up quickly and cost businesses an estimated $225 billion each year. And that’s just in the U.S. If you’re one of the many organizations that are tired of seeing your profits and productivity diminish due to absenteeism, we have good news and bad news.
First, the bad news: you’re far from alone. Close to 120,000 workers are absent on any given day in the U.S. for myriad reasons.
Now, the good news: there are solutions that can help your organization reduce absenteeism.
Here, we’ll help you grow your understanding of absenteeism, what causes it, and five simple and effective solutions for mitigating absenteeism. Keep reading if you’re ready to build an engaged and productive workforce!
What is Employee Absenteeism?
Absenteeism primarily refers to employees who are AWOL—absent without leave.
Although you’ll often hear absenteeism defined as an employee simply missing work unexpectedly, that doesn’t really paint the full picture. There are other ways that employees cause a decrease in productivity without being fully absent from work.
For example, employees coming in late and leaving early can have a notable impact on your organization’s output, although you might not necessarily consider it ‘absenteeism’ if you’re still seeing them in the office each day. Likewise, just because an employee clocks in and out at the right time doesn’t mean they’re being productive in the time they spend at work.
Understanding that absenteeism isn’t a single, easily-defined type of absence is essential for finding and creating solutions to it. Additionally, not all types of absenteeism are in your control — but creating a positive employee experience can reduce the ones that are.
Types of Absenteeism
There are several types of absenteeism, each with its own unique characteristics and causes.
Occasional vs. Habitual vs. Chronic Absenteeism
Occasional absenteeism is generally the least impactful form of absenteeism. This can be due to sick days, paid vacation time, or even maternity/paternity leave. Occasional absences tend to be planned and even mandatory from a legal standpoint, so they have minimal impact on teams.
Habitual absenteeism, however, usually crosses the line from acceptable to unacceptable. Habitual absences are unplanned, unauthorized, and can be a cause for concern. This happens when an employee hasn't requested time off, yet doesn't show up on occasion; or if they do show up, they are completely unengaged.
Chronic absenteeism is firmly in the "unacceptable" camp and has the most tangible effects on both companies and teams in the form of reduced productivity, increased costs, and excessive burnout among those working to cover for the absent team member. Employees that are chronically absent don't show up for work or, when they do, completely neglect their duties.
What Are the Root Causes of Absenteeism?
Given that absenteeism plays out in many different ways, it won’t come as a surprise that there are just as many factors affecting absenteeism in the workplace. While this list is nowhere near exhaustive, it does cover some of the most common causes of absenteeism, such as:
- Family and Childcare: Employees with children or other family members who need care are often forced to miss or leave work due to illnesses, appointments, school pick-up and drop-off, and many more. Both employers and employees can struggle to balance the need to respect and accommodate competing responsibilities at work and at home.
- Illness or injury: Unexpected illnesses are the most common type of absence and might not even be considered absenteeism. However, when an employee is frequently ill, it merits a closer look.
- Depression: Depression is one of the main causes of employee absenteeism. Additionally, depressed workers are more likely to fall ill, which further increases an employee’s absenteeism.
- Low Levels of Employee Engagement: If your teams don’t feel valued, aren’t on board with the organization’s objectives, or don’t feel supported, they may be disengaged. While disengaged employees might still show up every day, they’re probably not contributing to the organization in the way you expect.
Other causes of absenteeism range from harassment and toxic work cultures to substance abuse and physical injuries. Regardless of why your organization is experiencing absenteeism, the effects are damaging all the same.
Related: Read 'Causes of Excessive Absenteeism and How it Impacts Teams' for more details on this topic.
The Impact of Absenteeism in the Workplace
Reduced Productivity and Revenue Loss
Employee absenteeism greatly impacts your bottom line. This is because those that are committed to coasting still collect their paychecks while providing little to no value. Additionally, upon termination, there will be an inevitable investment of money, time, and effort to hire a replacement or a temporary worker.
Excessive absenteeism can also lead to legal issues, such as when an employee's absence is due to discrimination or retaliation. If the employee is afraid to come to work, whether due to toxic workplace culture, bullying, racial or sexual discrimination, or other valid reasons, they may be able to make a legal case against the company.
It's also tempting to fire employees that are chronically absent. But again, if they are absent because of company negligence, it could be considered a wrongful termination.
How Employee Absenteeism Impacts Your Team
Naturally, absenteeism reduces the productivity of both individuals and your organization, which ultimately damages your bottom line. But that’s only a surface-level assessment of how your organization is impacted by spotty employee attendance.
Employee absenteeism can also create teams that are full of stress. Some employees may be stressed because they’re missing work; others might be stressed because they’re taking on extra work to cover a colleague’s absence. Either way, it can result in a decrease in the quality of work produced and accelerate burnout.
Strategies and Best Practices to Control Employee Absenteeism in the Workplace
If your organization and team have experienced the consequences of absenteeism in the workplace, understand that absenteeism can be improved, if not solved within your organization. To get there, consider following these simple strategies for reducing absenteeism.
1. Create an Attendance Policy
Creating an attendance policy should be one of your first steps to mitigate excessive employee absences.
Be sure to define exactly what attendance means for your organization. With so many people working remotely or in a hybrid schedule, identifying absenteeism isn’t as simple as taking a head count. Instead, set expectations for what it means for your team to be ‘at work,’ wherever they happen to be.
2. Address Violations Promptly and Consistently, With Open Communication
Addressing attendance violations promptly reinforces how vital it is for the success and performance of your team.
If absenteeism is ignored, it will take more and more work to fix, and get more pushback from employees when implemented. Plus, if you wait a week to follow up on an absence, it can seem like you’re personally out to get that person.
While addressing violations promptly matters, it’s arguably more important to ensure that violations are addressed consistently. For example, it’s shockingly easy to sow discord among team members when someone with children is forgiven for cutting out an hour early, while childless employees are punished in the same situation.
Finally, you should hold everyone to the policy, regardless of seniority. If leaders and key contributors aren’t following your attendance policy, it will be hard to get buy-in from your full staff
3. Build Teams on a Foundation of Trust and Support
Absenteeism can be a touchy topic because solutions to it can seem somewhat Draconian.
Time and activity tracking software can create a distastefully authoritarian feeling, which ultimately won’t benefit your team.
When you have a culture of trust that doesn’t require that level of monitoring, your employees will be less likely to be absent and more likely to come forward when something is holding them back from being fully present. This allows you to work together—as a team—to find solutions that work for everyone.
4. Recognize Team Members Who Follow Through
Attendance policies and supportive cultures are essential to mitigating the organizational damage caused by employee absenteeism. However, on their own, these strategies fail to account for one simple fact: sometimes, it’s hard to put yourself to work every day.
To show your team you understand what they’re dealing with and that you appreciate them, make sure that you incentivize them to follow the new attendance policy. Some ways to recognize outstanding employee attendance include awarding additional vacation time, bonuses, and career development opportunities.
Just as it’s important to address violations in a fair and consistent way, rewards and recognition for attendance should be awarded with fairness as well.
5. Maintain a Level of Flexibility
Finally, don’t forget that your employees aren’t robots.
You’ll never be able to control everything, and neither will your employees. Someone’s car won’t start, someone else’s kids will be sick, and somebody else will have an essential appointment they can’t miss. No matter how you deal with absenteeism, it’s vital that you retain a level of flexibility and understanding that ensures your team won’t be penalized for things that were truly out of their control.
6. Provide Training and Development Opportunities
Nobody wants to be in a dead-end job.
People want to be challenged and they want to grow. They want to see a clear path forward in their career so they have goals to strive for. By providing this and further training opportunities, you're telling your employees that you care about broadening their skills and that you care about their personal growth.
Finally, don’t forget to review your attendance policy. Does it unfairly benefit or disadvantage a group of employees? Your organization and team shouldn’t be at odds, so if your attendance policy is having unintended consequences, don’t hesitate to adapt it.
Reduce Absenteeism and Build a Winning Team Experience™ With PepTalk
Absenteeism can cause real damage to your business and your teams. But only if you let it.
Take control of the absenteeism in your organization by creating and enforcing an attendance policy, supporting your teams, rewarding employees who follow the policy, and maintaining a level of human understanding.
Granted, that’s easier said than done, but PepTalk is here to help. Our platform is designed to help organizations and leaders build cultures of trust and support. When you have that level of connection as a team, you can reduce absenteeism by:
- Having honest conversations about the challenges facing employees at work and home
- Gaining accurate insights to your team’s sentiment toward initiatives like attendance policies
- Being able to identify your organizational and team-level weaknesses before they start impacting your productivity
Frequently Asked Questions
The impact of absenteeism on businesses includes increased costs, reduced productivity, poor morale, and potential legal issues, leading to significant financial losses to employers.
Common root causes of absenteeism among employees are mental and physical illness, family and childcare responsibilities, depression, low employee engagement, and workplace issues like harassment or toxic culture.
Trust and support in the workplace create a positive environment where employees feel valued, leading to increased motivation, engagement, and reduced absenteeism.
Maintaining flexibility is important in mitigating absenteeism as it allows employees to balance personal and work responsibilities, reducing stress and unplanned absences.
Organizations can combat absenteeism by building a positive team experience through open communication, recognition of employees, providing development opportunities, and ensuring fair attendance policies.