Employee absenteeism can have a substantial impact on a company's productivity and ability to achieve organizational goals effectively. By taking steps to reduce employee absenteeism, you can often improve morale and productivity, increasing the likelihood of achieving your departmental or company goals. Learn the major reasons for employee absenteeism and steps you can take to reduce it.
What Is Employee Absenteeism?
Employee absenteeism is when an employee is regularly absent from work. It refers to frequent absences that extend beyond what is an acceptable amount of time away for legitimate reasons like scheduled vacations, illness, or family emergencies.
Types of Employee Absenteeism
There are two kinds of absenteeism: culpable absenteeism and non-culpable absenteeism. Culpable absenteeism is when the employee does not give the employer a legitimate reason for missing work. Non-culpable absenteeism is when there is a legitimate reason, such as sickness, a family emergency, or scheduled vacation.
Reasons for Employees to Remain Absent From Work
Here are some of the primary reasons that employees are sometimes absent from work, outside of scheduled time off:
Burnout is a state of mental and emotional exhaustion brought about by excessive, prolonged stress. Employees who are in high-stakes positions or others feeling workplace stress may work long hours or feel extra pressure to perform. Over time, this can lead to burnout. These employees are more likely to call in sick to avoid the pressure they are feeling in the workplace, especially if they feel their efforts are unappreciated.
According to a 2017 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 60.3 million U.S. employees experience workplace bullying. Bullying is typically a co-worker's or supervisor's deliberate intimidating, offensive, or insulting behavior. It also includes abuse or misuse of power that undermines or humiliates another person. If an employee is experiencing bullying in the workplace, they may skip work to avoid this treatment.
Harassment is another reason employees may be chronically absent. If employees feel that they are being bullied or receiving unfair treatment because of their race, gender, religion, disability, or age, they may call in sick regularly to avoid the unpleasant work environment.
4. Stress and Low Morale
If employees regularly have heavy workloads or have to endure stressful meetings and presentations, they may want to avoid going to work. The same can occur if the employee is experiencing unusual amounts of stress outside of the workplace.
Employees who struggle with anxiety may have trouble focusing in the workplace. If their work is the source of their anxiety, they are far more likely to skip work to avoid the source of their stress. Many people who suffer from anxiety also experience problems sleeping, which can negatively impact work performance and decrease motivation to go to work.
6. Mental Illnesses
Depression is a leading cause of absenteeism in the U.S. It can reduce an employee's drive to produce high-quality work and even their motivation to get out of bed and go to work in the morning. If an employee stops taking medication that they use to manage their mental health, the employer may see an unexpected increase in absenteeism. Likewise, if an employee is diagnosed with a mental illness like bipolar disorder or depression, they may need to take time away from work to receive more intensive or long-term treatment.
If an employee is not engaged with their work or committed to their job, they often will not have the motivation to go to work regularly. Disengaged, uninspired, and unmotivated employees tend to have high rates of absenteeism.
8. Injuries or diseases
Illnesses are a common reason that employees miss work. There is a normal spike in employee absenteeism during cold and flu season for both full- and part-time employees. Injuries also can occur both in and outside of work, impacting an employee's ability to show up for their job. While acute injuries from accidents are relatively common, so are chronic injuries like neck and back problems from repetitive movements or sitting at a desk all day.
9. Childcare and eldercare
An employee may have to miss work if they have to stay at home to take care of children or an elderly adult because normal arrangements have fallen through. If finding other arrangements proves challenging, an employee may be away from work for an extended period of time.
10. Job hunting
If morale is low or an employee feels uninspired by their work, they may decide to look for employment elsewhere. If this is the case, employees may miss work for interviews, to work on their resume, or to attend a job fair.
11. Partial shifts
Sometimes employees are not absent for an entire day or entire shift. However, showing up late, leaving early, or taking extended breaks are all forms of absenteeism since there is a loss of productivity involved. This type of behavior can also impact morale, as other employees may resent this co-worker or may feel they have to pick up additional work to make up for the lost productivity.
The Effects of Absenteeism
Employee absenteeism can have a big impact on a company, both in terms of direct costs like salaries as well as indirect costs like productivity losses. Here is a more in-depth look at the effects of absenteeism:
Costs of employee absenteeism
The direct costs of employee absenteeism are those that you can quantify, such as the cost of employee paid time off (PTO) for vacations or sick leave and the lost wages if you are paying employees to be at work and they aren't showing up. The cost of each person who is absent is actually between one and two times the cost of their salary, and the greater an impact someone has on their team, the greater the multiplier.
There may be additional costs if you have to make up for a loss in productivity by paying other employees overtime. Additional expenses when you need to terminate an employee because of absenteeism can include placing job ads and the cost of employee time onboarding and training a new team member.
Consequences for employers
While the direct economic costs of employee absenteeism can be significant, the indirect costs can have an even greater impact. Employee absenteeism has a substantial impact on productivity and the quality of work that employees are doing, which can impact the company's ability to meet goals. However, by making even small reductions in employee absenteeism, employers can significantly improve productivity and the ability to achieve organizational goals.
Ways to Reduce Absenteeism in the Workplace
Here are some steps you can take to reduce employee absenteeism in the workplace:
1. Create an employee attendance policy
You should have a clear employee attendance policy that addresses issues like scheduled and unscheduled absences as well as tardiness. It should be easy to understand and clearly articulate any disciplinary actions for what will happen if an employee is late or absent from work. Use clear language to define what each type of absence means. Make sure you include allowances for emergencies.
Once you've created the policy, have every employee read the policy and sign a waiver confirming that they have reviewed it and accept it.
2. Enforce your attendance policy
Next, it's important to enforce your policy consistently with each employee. Have a plan for how you will address different scenarios and apply it to all employees, whether they are entry-level team members or managers at the senior level.
3. Keep track of employee absences
Every time an employee is absent or late, make note of it in your employee performance tool or timekeeping system. If you don't have a system in place, you could also track attendance in a spreadsheet. By diligently tracking employee attendance, you can notice when there is a pattern of absenteeism from one or more employees. It can also be useful for legal reasons in case an employee later wants to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against your organization.
4. Address unscheduled absences
If an employee frequently calls in sick or fails to show up for a shift without contacting their supervisor, address the absences immediately when the employee is back to work. Schedule a meeting to find out what happened, and communicate what is expected of them moving forward.
If their absence triggered disciplinary action, communicate that to them at this time, as well.
5. Discover the cause of employee absences
While it's important to address the absence itself, it's also important to find out what is causing the employee to be frequently absent from work. For example, if you notice that they are frequently late on specific days of the week, there may be a reason for the tardiness. Once you find out the reason for the absenteeism, there may be steps you can take to resolve the problem. For example, if your employee has trouble finding childcare on certain days, perhaps they could work from home those days or modify their schedule those days to accommodate childcare.
6. Reward good behavior
Take time to recognize the employees who maintain good attendance and strong performance. This can be a way to encourage their loyalty and also encourage other employees to have better attendance.
With the help of these steps, you can improve employee attendance, morale, quality, and performance. This can make it easier to hit goals for your department and within your company as a whole. Test these strategies within your company to find out which work for you.