Absenteeism In The Workplace: Causes, Impacts, and 9 Steps to Correct It

absenteeism at work


In Canada, the average working days lost due to personal reasons was 2.2 in 2020. Not a big deal, you say? Although the number may look small, absenteeism costs businesses more than just working days. These absence-induced losses amount to billions of dollars every year. What’s more alarming is that the surveys carried out on absenteeism barely cover even half of the registered organizations in the country. Read on to find out the causes of absenteeism and how to deal with it.

Key Takeaways

  • What is Absenteeism
  • Causes of Absenteeism
  • Impact of Absenteeism on Work
  • How to Deal with Absenteeism
  • What to do if Absenteeism Doesn’t Stop


What is Absenteeism?


In simple terms, being absent is failing to report to work. Absenteeism could either be planned or unplanned. Companies expect employees to take leaves for legitimate or customary matters. However, more often than not, the worker skips work often and regularly. This becomes a serious issue when they do not provide the reasons for absence or skip work for no significant reason. It is especially a pain when there are tight deadlines to meet or during a particularly busy season.

There are a few legal reasons to skip work:

  • Jury duty: Workers are permitted to take time off to carry out their jury responsibilities. According to the British Columbia Employment Standards, employees are entitled to receive standard calculations for pension, health, vacation, pay raises, and other benefits during this time.
  • Medical Reasons: It is perfectly normal to call in sick if you feel under the weather. In most cases, there are sick days allocated for such reasons. For medical leaves a little longer than what’s considered normal, you might be asked to produce a doctor’s notice.
  • Emergencies: You could face personal emergencies like an accident, a fire, or a power outage. This is a perfectly acceptable excuse to not come to work.REASONS FOR ABSENTEEISM - PLI

Causes of Absenteeism

The following are some common excuses to shrug off official responsibilities:

Appointments: If you have a dentist’s appointment or a routine check-up during office hours, you’ll have to inform the Human Resources department. These are routine and are usually acceptable.

Medical reasons: You may fall ill or contract a disease. Someone in your family may have a medical issue that needs urgent attention. These are situations you cannot avoid and your employer will understand.

Bereavement: A sudden death in the family may pull you away from your normal responsibilities.

Transport trouble: Your car may break down on the way to work. You have the option to service your car and hire a public transport service.

Unruly coworkers: A toxic work environment makes it difficult to produce quality results. You may have colleagues who constantly pressurize you. And you could have to take a day off to avoid the negativity.

Imposing bosses: Certain managers can be too demanding. They tend to micromanage and end up ruining your work life. Hence, a lot of people call in sick to avoid meeting their managers.

Mental health: Emotional and mental wellbeing has become a priority for many organizations these days. Visits to a therapist or a support group may have you call off work.

Stress: There could be immense work pressure. If a worker cannot cope with heavy workloads and meet huge targets, taking a break may help ease the stress.

Looking for a new job: Job hunting takes up a lot of time what with lengthy job application processes and interviews. If you have to attend interviews or submit a job application during working hours, you may need to skip work.


Impact of absenteeism on work

Employee absence has a massive impact on productivity and performance. In 2020, the average number of days lost per worker was 11.6 in Canada. And the figure keeps rising every year. Let’s talk about the financial costs of absenteeism.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that absenteeism costs employers $225.8 billion a year in terms of productivity in the United States or $1,685 per employee.

In contrast, Harvard Business Review reports that the total cost of presenteeism or being at work out of office is more than $150 billion annually in the United States. Additionally, presenteeism seems to be more expensive than absenteeism due to medical or biological reasons.

The other costs of absenteeism to organizations are:

  • The payments to employees when they are absent.
  • The managerial costs involved in absenteeism.

The cost incurred in hiring and paying temporary workers or the absentees’ substitutes. This could also include overtime charges.


There are some indirect organization costs related to worker absences too:

Productivity costs – Efficiency takes a hit when members of the staff are absent. Therefore, the other employees present in the office have to take care of their work. As a consequence, this extra work may counter-intuitively affect overall productivity.

Loss of time –  A lot of valuable time is wasted over managing the work of the absentees. Time is also wasted in selecting suitable applicants to replace the truant. Moreover, training and orientation take up time as well.

Poor quality results – Since other employees have to take over the absentees’ work, the final product could be substandard. Exhaustion and stress is a major cause of poor quality work.

Dip in morale – Absenteeism affects the overall morale of the team. Those who have to take over for the shirkers lose motivation because of the added pressure. Furthermore, the managers are affected as well because of the additional burden of allocating and overseeing projects.

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The effect of absenteeism on absentee employees

Financial crunch: Being absent for a long time can take a serious toll on your finances. That is unless you have a side job or financial power to back you up.

Mental wellbeing: If your absenteeism is stress-related or due to work pressure, you could face mental health issues. As a consequence, your emotional well-being goes for a toss.

Chance of termination: There could be the possibility of you losing your job due to the extended gap.

Stunted professional growth: There could be a cessation in professional growth. Since the employee is shirking work, he won’t be able to learn about professionalism.

Obligations: The absentee will have several obligations to fulfill on account of avoiding work. There could be legal documents to sign, responsibilities to fulfill, and specific people to report to.



How to Deal with Absenteeism

Here are 8 ways to correcting Absenteeism:

Establish clear policies

Set an absenteeism policy that clearly defines the following:

i. The official or acceptable reasons for the absence
ii. The concerned authorities to report to
iii. The system for recording absences
iv. The policies for continuous absence
v. The procedures and consequences for handling uncurbed absences

The HR department should send the policies to all concerned and ask them to sign the document and acknowledge the rules. Encourage the employees to bring up any objections or suggestions they may have. Make sure that the policies are accessible by all for reference.

Set explicit expectations

Convey your expectations of absenteeism. Let employees know what you desire from them. Additionally, it would be sensible to make employees aware of the outcomes of flouting the rules. Explain why the policies need to be adhered to.

Use a reward system

Create a system for rewarding employees for turning up to work regularly. Handing out incentives for punctuality. Free breakfasts could be a great offer to start with. Gift small but relevant rewards for regular attendance. These could be anything from gift cards to vouchers and coupons. You could also have a board featuring the most punctual staff of the month.

Welcome feedback

Your staff has to be in line with the rules and regulations about attendance. Find out what they think and make room for any pertinent rules. Make sure that feedback is consistent.

Additional services

Understanding why employees shirk work is key to addressing the problem of absenteeism. You could hire a therapist or a counselor to deduce the reasons behind absenteeism. Alternatively, provide coaching sessions if required.

Try to lower stress levels

If stress is the culprit, remove it by any means necessary. Mental health is vital for employee wellbeing. Make a list of all office items that require replacing or fixing. Pinpoint anything amiss and try to arrange facilities that ease the pressure of work. Focus on building a positive work environment. You could invest in a massage chair for example, or a room where workers may take power naps. Find someone to organize fun group sessions or team-building activities. These sessions are engaging and help in alleviating stress to a large extent.

Avoid micro-managing

When you dole out responsibility, you show that you trust your workers to handle their tasks with the utmost care. Hence, you shouldn’t feel the need to micro-manage. Constantly looking over your subordinate’s work raises feelings of resentment and frustration over time.

Provide support

Reach out to the workers that are absent due to personal issues such as a grave illness or the passing away of a loved one. Arrange to help them during and after their troubled times. Help them process the situation and return to work. For instance, you could allow flexible working hours.

Motivate employees and bring up morale levels

Absenteeism or not, ensuring that the staff is motivated is vital to any organization. Workers should feel like they’re an important cog in the wheel that is your business entity. Show appreciation for their work. Allow them to take some paid time off, or go for a vacation. Call in experts from the industry to deliver powerful pep talks.

Employee satisfaction is another factor that can curb absenteeism. Minute details like lighting, fresh air, and indoor plants can do wonders to help boost employee morale. Keep the pantry well-stocked with nuts, fruits, and energy bars. You could also consider creating a gaming arena. Remember, employee engagement and involvement levels determine performance. Therefore, it helps to bring up the work morale.

What to do if Absenteeism Doesn’t Stop (A Nine-Step Guide)

There’s a limit to how long you can reprimand extreme absentees. You have to have stringent measures in place to correct extreme absenteeism.

Step 1: Formulate an attendance policy

An attendance policy is crucial for your business’s success. This document outlines the various ways through which the entity manages the following:

  • Reporting times and Tardiness
  • Leave management
  • Paid time off
  • Not showing up to work
  • No intimation of leave
  • Deserting the job
  • Disciplinary action in case of any violations

The following are simple steps to help you create an attendance policy:

Step 2: Figure out the work culture.

Determine the shift timings. Carry out research looking into the flexibility of these shifts. Also, you might want to look into the attitude of the company towards deadlines. If time limits are taken for granted, there’s a low chance of the organization succeeding.

Step 3: What exactly counts as absenteeism and what doesn’t.

You must establish the criteria for approvable reasons of absence.

Some acceptable reasons could be emergencies, civic duties, health issues, and unexpected unavoidable circumstances.

The poor excuses for getting out of work are oversleeping, certain types of personal excuses, low commitment, and morale.

Step 4: Frame a system for the absence procedure

Use a scheduling application so the staff can easily schedule and track their leaves. Keep it simple and transparent. Install an HRMS system to generate reports of attendance, punctuality, and leaves taken. Teach the employees to request leaves of absence and specify the documentation needed. Also, include a list of designated holidays when you send out an annual notice.

Step 5: Ensure fairness of policy

The attendance policy should be inclusive of all employee requirements. It should be flexible enough to cater to all work arrangements and needs. Thus, this effectively shows that you care about your workforce and indirectly boosts morale.

In sum, ensure that there’s a clear and specific, albeit simple absence policy in place.

Step 6: State out disciplinary actions

There should be a procedure to ensure disciplinary action, should somebody violate the absenteeism policies. Some punitive measures are listed below:

  1. Word of warning (verbal)
  2. Written warning
  3. Meeting with the authorities, either a direct supervisor or an HR manager.
  4. Unpaid suspension
  5. Termination

Step 7: Maintain all agreements

If you keep your word, so will your employees. When you follow the policies and guidelines, you encourage the labor to do the same. So maintain the agreements made in the contracts and urge your staff to do the same. Remember to keep improving upon the procedures consistently.

Step 8: Keep your doors open

It’s always a positive feeling when employees find that the management including the HR department is approachable. Be employee-oriented in your approach. This would automatically take care of factors like workplace environment and culture to a massive extent. Moreover, you are encouraging the staff to stick on and attend work regularly.

Step 9: Check-in often

Again, this is a role for supervisors as well as the representatives of the Human Resources team. Maintain healthy and cordial relations with all employees. Check-in during their absences and try to help as much as possible. Everyone seeks out an employer who is caring and attentive to their employees’ needs.


Final Thoughts

Workplace absenteeism is no small matter. Even if you don’t have a serious case of absenteeism now, there’s no telling when this could occur in the future. To prevent unnecessary leaves, you must enforce proper guidelines and see that they are adhered to. You could start with preparing an elaborate absence policy document and creating a healthy, positive atmosphere in the office. Finally, do follow the guidelines above, and in due course, the situation should turn around soon.


Related readings:

Professional Leadership Institute (PLI) is an educational website providing professionals from all types of businesses with practical education in human resources and leadership. To keep evolving your leadership toolkit, additional PLI resources below will be useful:

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