Absenteeism: Definition, Causes, Effects, and Solutions

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This article will explore the definition of absenteeism, its causes, and its effects on businesses. We will also provide tips on how to reduce absenteeism in the workplace.

What Is absenteeism?

Absenteeism is defined as the habitual or intentional failure to attend work. Several factors, including illness, family obligations, vacation, personal problems, or job dissatisfaction, can cause it. Absenteeism can harm the individual and the company, leading to lower productivity and increased labor costs.

There are a few ways to reduce absenteeism in the workplace, such as crafting a company culture that values attendance, offering flexible work arrangements, and providing support to struggling employees. By reducing absenteeism, companies can create a more positive work environment and improve employee morale.

Must Read: What is Unauthorised Absence? A Guide For Employers

Types of absenteeism in the workplace

Approved absences

Employees who request and receive permission to leave work are considered to have left on approved leave. It is possible to take this type of leave for legitimate reasons, including earned vacations, holidays, long-term medical leaves, jury duty, and anything that cannot be scheduled outside work hours. 

Occasional employee absences

An employee can require time off without being approved beforehand in addition to approved time off. Some things can only sometimes be planned for in advance, and life happens. A few examples of occasional absences from work are sick days, childcare issues, bereavement for a family member or friend, legal issues, and car trouble. These are truly occasional in that employees do not abuse the availability of these times off and use them only as necessary. The company should prepare for workers' unplanned absences on occasion.

Chronic absenteeism

Chronic absenteeism is when employees regularly miss work without their employer's permission. While chronic absenteeism can be managed (most of the time) from an employer's perspective, the other two can be quite difficult because they disrupt the business's daily operations. It is a headache for corporations and their employees to have workers who are constantly MIA. 

It's time for your company to deal with chronic absenteeism if you've disengaged employees, employees who call in sick all the time, who show up late, leave early, or who take extra long lunch breaks.

Useful Read: No-Call No-Show: How To Deal With Employees Who Don’t Show Up For Work

How to measure absenteeism?

A simple formula can be used to determine absenteeism. Calculate your unexcused absences over time and divide them by the total. You can calculate absenteeism over a month, a year, or a semester by multiplying it by 100.

The absenteeism rate formula

(absenteeism excepted/total period) x 100 = % of absences)

In terms of absenteeism, no set number or percentage indicates excessive absenteeism. If you work for a company with several employees, a score of zero would be ideal, but some of it is acceptable.

To determine whether an absence is excused or justified, you must differentiate unexcused from justified absences. While both affect productivity, unjustified absences impact your business the most. You need to be able to prevent and control those more easily to control them more effectively.

It is possible to control absences with the help of absence management software. It is a great tool for digitizing HR tasks. Despite these negatives, digitization can mitigate them.

What are the business impacts of absenteeism?

The impact of unauthorized absences on a business can often be devastating, especially if shift work is involved. A huge financial impact is caused by the need to pay for time off, find replacement employees quickly, and incur administrative costs because of the resources required to change shifts, communicate with customers, and hire workers to fill vacant positions.

Absenteeism also significantly reduces productivity. The right person with the right skills can be difficult to find when an employee with a unique skill set is absent. It may result in a delay in completing the project and lower quality. An organization's customer experience is at the core of its success, and all of these factors can negatively affect it.

Employee absenteeism can also profoundly affect other employees, who are often forced to take on more and increase their workload to compensate. It can cause them to feel overwhelmed and overburdened, hindering their productivity and delaying project completion.

In addition to having a long-term impact on the profitability and revenue of the organization, each of these elements greatly impacts the work environment, customer experience, and overall productivity.

What are the causes of absenteeism?

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Several factors can contribute to employees' absence from work or reduced engagement and productivity at work - some of which are easier to identify. Several studies and surveys have found that the most common reasons employees miss work are:

Workplace stress and burnout

Employees who feel overworked or overwhelmed may become less productive at work or even decide to take a vacation. Employees' stress can also cause absenteeism since they are more likely to get sick and experience anxiety and depression. The workplace is often a stressful and exhausting environment for top employees. To reduce this problem, you should regularly evaluate company practices, make sure the workload is distributed fairly, and teach employees how to manage stress.

Useful Read: Stress Leave from work: Implications and Best Practices

Low Morale

Employees who feel unmotivated, undervalued, or unchallenged may need to pay attention to work or take long breaks. Also, disengaged employees might seek other employment to fix the situation themselves, another major contributor to absenteeism. It is a multifaceted problem, but it is easy to solve. A good internal communication system and a growth opportunities program can help you encourage employee loyalty. You should also ensure all employees feel valued and heard and that they can fully utilize their skills.

Childcare and Family Emergencies

The daycare center may not be available because of your child's cold, or the babysitter may not be able to provide care. While some offices offer childcare on-site, others accept it as a standard cost of doing business. To execute effective absenteeism management, it is important to identify who your employees must inform about their excessive absences. Additionally, remote work can help to maintain high morale and productivity.

Related: Building Engagement with Remote Employees: Tips and Strategies

Illness and Injury

The most common reason employees miss work is illness and injury, which include travel time to doctors' appointments and dealing with more serious medical problems. Employers can benefit from implementing on-site healthcare and workplace wellness programs that will keep their workers healthy and reduce the time they spend searching for healthcare.

Job Hunting

When seeking other employment, employees might miss work to attend interviews. Additionally, they may spend time searching for jobs online and submitting resumes at work. Employees who miss work to job hunt have often been experiencing employee burnout or low morale for months or even years, but these issues have gone unaddressed. Employees can grow within your organization if you offer them more opportunities for professional development. Employees who feel committed to their employers are less likely to look elsewhere.

Costs of lost productivity

According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, 94,000 workers in 14 major occupations in the US had chronic health conditions. The cost of lost productivity was $84 billion a year for 77% of those workers. In this study, it was found that the annual costs associated with absenteeism vary significantly by industry, with professional occupations experiencing the highest losses in terms of absenteeism.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a rise of 110% to 7.8 million illness-related work absences in January 2022, compared to 3.7 million the year before. According to the Reserve Bank of the United States, absenteeism in U.S. companies in 2020 cost about $3,600 per hourly worker.

Many factors contribute to the costs, including:

  • Employees' absenteeism wages
  • Workers who earn high overtime wages (overtime paid for other employees as well as temporary workers)
  • Managing absenteeism of administrative cost

Absenteeism also has indirect costs and effects, including:

  • A lack of staffing or overtime fatigue results in poor-quality goods/services
  • Reduced productivity
  • A manager's excess time (dealing with discipline and recruiting replacement employees)
  • Issues involving safety (inadequately trained employees filling in for others, trying to keep up after being replaced, etc.)
  • Low morale among employees who do extra work to cover absent colleagues

It is common for employees to miss work for several reasons, but let's take a closer look at these three categories.

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Is absence management able to reduce absenteeism?

Absence management is an effective strategy to reduce absenteeism, as it offers the following benefits:

  • Reduce operational costs
  • Improve employee welfare

When HR software is absent of data, it is easier for human resources to improve policies and programs. An organization can reduce costs by monitoring the absence of data as a baseline. Tracking absences can also be used by HR to discover absenteeism trends and enhance absence management programs.

The absence management industry provides a wide range of solutions, including return-to-work support, assessment services, and coordination and management, as well as many other benefits if you explore HR software.

It is important to prevent absenteeism from becoming habitual with the help of absence management solutions. Costs are reduced on both an operational and secondary basis. In addition, employees can have a better work experience and a sense of well-being.

Let's see how you can use absence management software and resources to maximize their benefits.

When is absenteeism excessive?

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Absenteeism policies vary from company to company, with some having more flexible policies and some having strict ones. An exact definition of excessive absenteeism cannot be given due to the lack of a set guideline. 

There is a higher likelihood of absenteeism among employees in larger companies than in smaller ones. Your company is responsible for establishing what constitutes excessive absenteeism and communicating the rules. You can decide how often you attend work, but there is a way to determine when your absences become excessive. This is known as the Bradford Factor

Managers can keep track of absences by benchmarking individual employees. A Bradford Factor is based on the number of planned and unplanned absences that are more disruptive than long absences. Employees with three two-day absence periods will get a better score than those with one six-day absence period. 

A method like this allows you to keep track of absences, identify areas of concern that may be excessive absenteeism, and take action where necessary. 

How to deal with absenteeism

Absenteeism can be corrected in 8 ways:

Establish clear policies

Establish a clear absenteeism policy that includes the following:

  • Absence of reasons that are acceptable or official
  • Reporting to the authorities concerned
  • Absence recording system
  • Policy on continuous absences
  • Procedures and penalties for uncurbed absences

The HR department should send policies to all relevant parties and ask them to sign and acknowledge them. If an employee has any comments or objections, they should be encouraged to raise them. Everyone should be able to access policies for reference.

Set explicit expectations

Make sure your absenteeism expectations are clear. Make sure employees understand what you expect from them. Additionally, employees should be aware of the consequences of flouting the rules. You should explain why you should follow the policies.

Use a reward system.

Create a system of rewards for employees who consistently show up for work. Punctuality rewards are given out. The offer of free breakfast could be a great place to start. Give small rewards to regular attendees. It is possible to purchase a variety of gift cards and vouchers. Additionally, keeping a board with the most punctual staff might be interesting.

Welcome feedback

You must ensure that your staff adheres to attendance rules and regulations. Identify any pertinent rules and take their feedback into account. Ensure that your feedback is consistent.

Additional services

To address absenteeism problems, companies must understand why employees shirk work. An absenteeism counselor or therapist can help determine why someone is absent. In addition, if necessary, coaching sessions can be provided.

Try to lower your stress levels.

Remove stress as quickly as possible if it's the cause. The mental health issues of employees are crucial to their well-being. Identify all items in the office that need to be replaced or repaired. Try to identify any issues and arrangements that can ease the workload. Make sure to create a positive working environment. For example, invest in a massage chair, or create a room where employees can take power naps. Engage someone to organize group activities or team-building sessions. In addition to being engaging, these sessions help to reduce stress to an extent.

Avoid micro-managing

Your employees will be able to do their duties with the utmost care when you assign them responsibilities. Therefore, you don't need to micromanage. It's easy to become resentful and frustrated when constantly monitoring a subordinate's work.

Provide support

Reach out to absent employees for personal reasons, like a death in the family or a serious illness. Please provide them with assistance both during and after their troubled time. Provide them with assistance in resolving the situation so they can get back to work. A flexible working schedule would be a suitable example.

Raising morale and motivating employees.

Motivating staff, regardless of absenteeism, is crucial for any organization. Workforce members should be a crucial part of your company. Your appreciation will go a long way. You can give them some paid time off or send them on vacation. Engage industry experts to offer powerful motivational speeches.

Employee satisfaction can also reduce absenteeism. Boosting employee morale can be achieved with the help of details like lighting, fresh air, and indoor plants. Maintain a good stock of nuts, fruits, and energy bars in the pantry. Consider setting up a gaming arena. An employee's level of engagement and involvement determines their performance. The result is an increase in workplace morale.

What employers can do

It can be challenging for employers to monitor, control effectively, and reduce absenteeism because there are both legitimate and poor excuses for missing work. If a company does not require a doctor's excuse, it can be hard to determine whether an employee is actually ill. Similarly, employers must consider the additional costs associated with a sick employee who spreads a virus to the entire division – or many customers.

Several companies, cities, and states have adopted policies mandating paid sick leave, where employees receive a minimum number of sick days each year.

Those who oppose mandatory sick leave argue that it will ultimately lead to higher costs and layoffs. Additionally, opponents fear that employees will abuse their sick days without regard for their health. Paid sick leave advocates, however, say the move is economically efficient. As a result, fewer instances of absenteeism and sick employees will be able to recover faster, so infectious diseases will be stopped in the workplace and schools.


Absenteeism in the workplace is a serious problem that can have several negative consequences for businesses. Some contributing factors to absenteeism include job dissatisfaction, personal problems, and health issues. To combat absenteeism, businesses should implement policies and procedures to identify and address the underlying causes. Additionally, businesses should provide employees with resources and support to help them cope with personal and employee health concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Absenteeism is the absence of an employee from work without a valid reason. It can be classified as either authorized absenteeism, which is when an employee is absent with permission from their employer, or unauthorized absenteeism, which is when an employee is absent without permission. Unauthorized absenteeism is also sometimes called unexcused absence.

  • The acceptable level of unexcused absenteeism will vary from company to company, depending on their specific policies and practices. However, in general, more than 5% of unexcused absences per year is considered to be a high rate. This can vary depending on the type of work, the industry, and the company culture. For example, a company that requires employees to work long hours or that has a physically demanding job may have a higher tolerance for unexcused absences than a company that has a more flexible work environment or that requires employees to work with sensitive or confidential information.

  • Again, the answer to this question will vary from company to company. However, it is generally recommended that employers develop a progressive discipline policy for unexcused absenteeism. This policy should outline the steps that will be taken for each level of absenteeism, starting with a verbal warning and progressing to written warnings, suspension, and ultimately termination of employee. The specific steps in the policy will depend on the severity of the absenteeism and the company's culture.

  • There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The acceptable level of unexcused absenteeism will vary from company to company and from employee to employee. However, in general, it is important for employers to address unexcused absenteeism as soon as it becomes a problem. This will help to minimize the impact on the company's productivity and morale.

Topic: HRM
Carin Vreede

Written by:

Carin Vreede

With years of experience in the HR field, Carin has a lot of experience with HR processes. As a content marketer, she translates this knowledge into engaging and informative content that helps companies optimize their HR processes and motivate and develop their employees.


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