Employee Absenteeism: Main Causes and Best Solutions

Running a business is like arranging the pieces of a complex puzzle, where the pieces resemble your employees and their aspirations. And if any of the parts go missing, the entire picture, the puzzle, is incomplete. Well, having said so, the issue of employee absenteeism in the workplace is no different here.

To understand employee absenteeism, we need to understand absence. Absence in the workplace is an occasion or period of being away from work. Absence in the workplace is caused by physical illness, stress-related illness, or other reasons.

At first glance, employee absenteeism may not seem such a big deal. After all, emergencies happen. For you as HR personnel or a manager, it’s a familiar scene to find one or two empty seats in your workplace. 

Shifts get rearranged, and it can feel good watching your team covering for a sick coworker. However, things become nasty when such unexcused absences rise: once in a while becomes at least once a month, or even once a week. Every now and then turns into a pattern of behavior. And it becomes more alarming when the same set of employees start making excessive absences without any proper reason.

Before discussing the remedies, here is a comprehensive guide of questions and especially answers about workforce absenteeism.

1. What Is Employee Absenteeism?

Employee absenteeism means the chronic lack of employee attendance from work without a valid cause, often unplanned and unannounced. This type of absence is often categorized as a habitual absence. It excludes authorized leaves, paid time off, occasional no-call, no show, or instances that cannot be controlled, like illness or commute trouble.

It is not easy to show up for work every day. The employers recognize this fact, and in case of emergencies, they have leave policies for employees. But when those off days transform into a pattern of missing work, it becomes a serious concern and is employee absenteeism.

Employee absenteeism can cause extensive harm to a company, and it’s not just about the financial burden. When companies fail to address absenteeism, it can put unfair pressure on other team members, leading to a loss of productivity and elevated levels of workplace stress.

Skipping workdays and arriving late at work often add up to a high absenteeism rate.

2. What Are The Causes of Employee Absenteeism?

People miss work for a variety of reasons, some of them legitimate and others not so. Some of the most common reasons for employee absenteeism include (but are not limited to):

1. Low morale and employee engagement

Even if not a direct cause, low morale, and motivation are often part of absenteeism and attrition problems. Employees who feel connected to their workplace are more likely to perform better than those who are not. Having low or no employee engagement at work is one of the key reasons behind an employees' unscheduled absences. Understanding your employees and what makes them happy is crucial to the success of any business. Start here, and everything else may fall in place.

"41% of team members who are aware of their strengths show lower absenteeism." - Gallup

2. Lack of appreciation and direction

It is hard to feel engaged when you don’t know what is expected of you and how you can reach the team’s goals. Also, you cannot have good morale if you feel unappreciated or underappreciated. If the employees are told they are easily replaceable or not valuable to the organization, they will find it hard to be motivated and easy to call in sick, even when they are not.

Tip: We have several appreciation messages that you can use anytime to show your employees your gratitude.

3. Poor leadership

It’s hard to think managers are the problem, but maybe they are. Too much discipline or not enough can both result in absenteeism. Are they the leaders' people tend to follow? Or are they the type of manager that people prefer to avoid by skipping work or even quitting? 

According to Gallup, 75% of people who quit their jobs leave their managers rather than their companies. If you are trying to solve absenteeism, morale, and turnover problems in your organization, take a look at your leadership.

4. Workplace burnout

Jobs with an overwhelming workload can create unwanted pressure on your employees. The burnout effect happens when an employee becomes exhausted in the workplace. It usually creeps in subtly, impacting workers in a way that they almost overlook. Most of the time, the issue of workplace burnout goes overlooked.

A good HR practitioner knows how important it is for the employees to find some time for themselves to balance. However, in most cases, employees are overexposed to work, sparing them no time for themselves. And in the long run, this leads to the degradation of their interest in their workplace.

5. Personal/ family issues

Things come up, and standard arrangements may fall through. Employees may be forced to miss work: sometimes it’s an elderly parent or a child in trouble. We all experience struggles at one time or another, and they can cause unexpected absenteeism. Prepare for it at an organizational level, and you will find the stress caused is significantly reduced to both you and your employee.

6. Workplace harassment and employee conflicts

Workplace harassment and conflicts hurt employees' emotional state, their mental health and turn a company into a toxic and unproductive environment. Often, harassment goes unreported, as victims may be unsure of what qualifies as workplace harassment and what to do when they experience it. Employees harassed by coworkers and/or bosses are more likely to lose interest in their work, leading to absenteeism to avoid the situation.

Also, pay special attention to the relations inside your team. Do your employees get along? Do they like working together? Are the supervisors managing each person based on their unique abilities and personality? Or is there constant drama and accusations of favoritism and cliques? Workplace conflict is a massive cause of absenteeism, but one that can often be solved quickly.

You have to aim to create a positive environment where employees are happy and satisfied. Better work allocation and staff arrangements can be of help here. By following such advice, fewer sick leave days will be recorded also.

7. Minor illness

Minor illnesses like headaches and stomach bugs can strike anytime; they are an inevitable part of working life. They’re so common that they’ll likely prove costly for all businesses. But you can still take steps to make these conditions cost less. You could make it clear that employees simply should not show up for work if they’re feeling peaky, and you could immediately send home any employees that show up to work with a cold, flu, or stomach virus. Such policy will reduce the chances of illness spreading among your staff. 

A good absence management software will also help here, and clear HR reporting will help to spot sick leave patterns and identify areas where you could make improvements. For instance, people with good diets who regularly exercise tend to get sick less often, so encourage your employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

8. Mental health issues

All the above reasons ultimately lead to mental health issues. According to the annual survey conducted by CIPD, stress and mental health are significant causes of employee absence. Depression, anxiety, and other mental challenges and illnesses are not rare, unfortunately, but they are usually manageable or treatable. Still, many employees resort to skipping their work to find themselves some time to rejuvenate. And most often, this kind of leaves from work goes without prior announcement, leading to low employee attendance rates.

Once again, an absence tracker can help. Prevention is always better than a cure, and if you can spot a pattern of absenteeism, you may be able to help an employee who might otherwise have suffered in silence. 

Hooray. Now you are are aware of the key absenteeism causes. In case you want to share with your colleagues these details, we have also a graphic.

3. How to Reduce Employee Absenteeism?

Solutions to Reduce Absenteeism in the Workplace

After understanding the causes of absenteeism, you should then work to reduce it. Here are some actionable solutions to absenteeism in the workplace:

1. Have a clear attendance policy and set expectations

The policy should explain how to report absences, the procedures in place surrounding absences, and their recording. It should contain information about how you will follow up on repeated absences and the repercussions of excessive absenteeism. The policy will act as a resource to your employees about your expectations. Aim to be consistent and follow the attendance policy in all possible situations.

2. Keep track of employee absences

When it comes to dealing with employee attendance, it’s essential to keep updated and complete records. How to track employee absenteeism depends on what works best for your business. One easy way to track your employees’ time is with a time clock app, which provides useful clock in/clock out notifications right away.

3. Foster an inclusive team culture

When employees get a sense of belonging and feel connected to the team, they will know they are valued in the organization. Bringing a group together and respecting every employee inspires them to work and contribute better. Managers can organize various activities to build their team and help them know each other beyond the work boundaries. A team worker will account for his/her responsibilities better as he/she will be aware of how unplanned absence can affect the entire team.

4. Provide support

If an employee is absent due to personal issues, like bereavement or mental health problems, you should provide support both when they are absent and on their return to work. Support will likely make them feel happier to return to work earlier and prevent repeated absenteeism. You could also consider offering your employees time off in lieu and/or flexible working time. Being supportive will ensure people feel like they get a good work-life balance and that you value their needs.

5. Reward good behavior

In the workplace, absence is often felt more strongly than presence, and for a good reason. If someone doesn’t show up to do their job, it puts a strain on the entire team. But what about the employees who do show up on time every day and keep your business running smoothly in the background? Don’t take them for granted. Notice them. A survey revealed that 69% of employees would stay at the firm if there are better rewards and recognition programs. Recognizing employees for good attendance and performance can be one of the lowest cost yet highest-impact strategies for your business.

6. Address unscheduled absences and no-show's

Every time an absence arises, not just make a note of it. A good practice is to introduce a return-to-work interview routine. By sitting with the absentee, you will better understand the reason for the absence, and explain why following the company procedures is important. You can also try to find the root cause of such situation, and see if changes might need to be made within the employee working schedule. You might highlight what could be the consequences of absenteeism, and when they are triggerd - ie disciplinary actions. Moreover, you can explain that the company uses absence management tools to track such situations. Without a strategy in place to document employee absenteeism, it may be hard to keep track of employee attendance and flag when one-off unscheduled absences start to become a pattern.

If you are looking for ideas on how to deal with no-call, no-show employees, we have a set of best practices that you can use:

  1. Put in place a No-Call, No-Show policy
  2. Make sure the policy is well understood by everyone
  3. Enforce the policy
  4. Revise your absence scheduling practices
  5. Create an On-Call list
  6. Make an effort to really know your employees
  7. Try to remain calm
  8. Ask for proof.

7. Absence management solutions

Staff's leaves of absence impact productivity, costs, and business continuity. Absence management software will give you control and show who is at the office and who is not and the reasons for all the absences. Tracking the absences will not be any longer a struggle. Your HR-related operations and insights will be under control in no time.

Remember, absence management solutions are not only important, but they offer benefits that your workforce will appreciate:  

  • Increase administration efficiency
  • Understand absence trends
  • Boost employee satisfaction
  • Reduce absenteeism
  • Enhance productivity
  • Simplify payroll procedures
  • Reduce errors
  • Delegate booking / approval
  • Ensure compliance
  • Automate HR processes
  • Save money and time
  • Make informed decisions.

Well, now you have a better perspective about how to tackle this HR challenge. Below, you can also find a graphic summarizing the solutions for absenteeism within small to medium business.

4. How To Calculate The Absenteeism Rate?

The absenteeism rate, also known as absence rate, or absence percentage, is the rate of unplanned absence due to sickness or other causes. It can be measured for an individual, team, or the entire organization. Each number gives information about the vitality of the organization.

To calculate an absenteeism rate, you need employee absence data, usually available in your company’s Human Resources Software. This absence data should at least contain the number of days an individual or group or individuals were absent and the dates associated with that absence. You will also need the number of available workdays in a given period.

Absenteeism rates are often reported by different teams, departments, or geographic areas. Absenteeism rates give you clarity over employee absence, and it leads to effective and targeted interventions.

Absenteeism rate = (Number of absent days / number of available work days in a given period) x 100

Annual absence rate = number of absence days during the year / number of available work days during the year x 100

Working days = 365 Total days in 2023 - 105 Weekend - 11 Public holidays = 249 working days


Here is an example for Anthony, a full time US employee, for the entire year of 2023. If in a year there are 249 working days - 20 vacation days = 229 work days. And let's say he was absent for 10 days. Remember that Vacation and lateness are not included in the absence rate.

Yearly Absenteeism Rate for Anthony = 10/229 X 100 = 4.3%

Tip: Discover 33 additional HR KPI examples.

5. What is The Cost of Employee Absenteeism?

Unscheduled absences from work affect both the employers and the employees. 

Apart from seeing less money on their paycheck for taking excessive time off, the employee tends to lose their value as diligent organization members. And if these employees continue with their unscheduled absences, they'll most likely end up losing their job. 

Absenteeism also affects employers’ bottom lines. Absent employees impact an organization’s productivity, revenue, and costs. Absenteeism contributes to employee turnover, increased labor costs when replacement workers need to be hired, and other management and hiring costs.

According to Shift Absenteeism: The Bottom-Line Killer publication, unscheduled shift absenteeism costs roughly $2,660 per year for each shift worker. While this may not seem like a significant amount of money spent over a year, let’s look at a typical large company with 500 shift workers. It pays $1,333,000 in direct absenteeism costs every year. 

Tip: The absenteeism costs can be attributed to many factors, including:
  • Wages paid to absent employees
  • High-cost replacement workers (overtime pay for other employees and/or temporary workers)
  • Administrative costs of managing absenteeism
  • Other indirect costs and effects of absenteeism include:
  • Poor quality of goods/services resulting from overtime fatigue or understaffing
  • Reduced productivity
  • Excess manager time (dealing with discipline and finding suitable employee replacements)
  • Safety issues (inadequately trained employees filling in for others, rushing to catch up after arriving as a replacement, etc.)
  • Poor morale among employees who have to "fill in" or do extra work to cover absent coworkers.

Related: How to stop PTO abuse?

Wrapping Up

Mitigating employee absenteeism is a long-term process, not an overnight solution. Even with the right policies, you are likely still receiving calls about surprise “food poisoning” or the always-convenient Friday flu. 

Employees’ are humans too. They fall sick, require time to rest and moments to spend with their loved ones. It is wrong to assume that an employee would be present at work if everything at the workplace is set right. However, taking all the necessary steps, getting things right, and ensuring the employees are engaged in a healthy work environment will benefit both the employer and the employee.

And always remember Douglas Conant’s words, ”To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.”

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