Workplace absenteeism

What it is and how do you prevent it in your workplace?

It happens with even your best employees. They call in sick or request paid time off due to an emergency. It's unpredictable and impossible to prevent. 

And that’s alright as long as it doesn’t get out of control. But what do you do when absences turn into absenteeism? If you don’t get it in check early, it could potentially hurt your organization in several ways. 

For example, did you know absenteeism in the U.S. is costing companies billions per year? Workplace absenteeism statistics show unplanned absences tie up 8.7% of payroll costs. Research on absenteeism in the workplace also shows an astounding $84 billion loss in productivity due to employee no-shows. 

If you’re dealing with absenteeism or would like to prevent it, then continue reading to learn more. 

What is absenteeism in the workplace?

Not all absences are considered absenteeism. Absenteeism occurs when an employee is scheduled to come in, doesn't show up...and repeatedly does this without good cause. This is known as an unplanned (and unexcused) absence. 

Then there are planned absences, such as when a worker calls in or submits a request for time off to handle a personal matter. This doesn't count as absenteeism. 

With absenteeism, you're dealing with workers that unexpectedly don't show up for extended periods. For example, a worker may be absent for several days in a row. Or will repeatedly miss work each month. 

This can add up quickly throughout the year, hurting your business's productivity and finances.

What is excessive absenteeism for employees?

Excessive absenteeism is when a particular employee or group of employees fails to show up to work repeatedly. They don't provide a good reason (or no reason at all). 

But what's considered excessive? Is it one day a week? Or several days every other month?

Unfortunately, there's no formal rule on how many absences it takes to be deemed excessive. One way to identify an unreasonable amount of absenteeism is to look at the effect it's having on your organization. 

Review how often unexcused absences occur per employee. 

Is the current number of absences hurting the morale, finances, and productivity of your workplace? If so, then it's time to do something and fast. Next, let's review why absenteeism happens and what you can do about it

What are the major causes of absenteeism at work (and how to overcome them)?

Understanding the why behind absenteeism in your company will enable you to take steps to minimize it. Of course, there are some problems you can't stop, such as illness, injuries, and family emergencies. 

So instead, we're going to focus on common problems you can proactively target to reduce absenteeism. 

Low employee engagement (and morale)

attentive employees

When employees feel disengaged at work, they're more likely to feel disconnected. And when this happens, their motivation reduces, making them less committed to their role. According to Gallup's research on absenteeism in the workplace, companies with engaged workers witness 41% less employee absenteeism

So what can you do to improve morale and engagement? It depends on the root of the problem. Let's review some possible quick fixes:

  • Promote a better work-life balance by allowing more vacations/PTO or PT remote work.

  • Give more recognition and appreciation in the form of hand-written cards, award ceremonies, and bonuses.

  • Get workers involved in projects and delegate tasks to instill autonomy.

Bullying from other workers or management

The reality is bullying follows many of us throughout life — even into the workplace. When this happens, it makes working dreadful. So much so, workers are willing to lose pay because of it. 

Numbers show workplace bullying is on the rise. In 2008, 75% of employees admitted to being targeted or a witness to bullying in the workplace. And as of 2019, this has increased to 94%. 

Unfortunately, workers tend to suffer in silence due to a lack of support. Some may not feel like they will get results if they complain. So to reduce instances of harassment, you can create an anonymous system. 

This way, employees can complain without being known. If you see multiple complaints about the same individuals, then there may be something there. Investigate each incident to ensure no one abuses the system. 

Just be sure to establish a zero-tolerance harassment and bullying rule, so problems are nipped in the bud. 

Mental health or substance abuse issues

It's not always possible to look at someone and tell who has a mental illness or substance abuse issue. So it could be an underlying problem with your organization. 

Mental illnesses come in various forms, including depression, stress, and anxiety. Numbers show 94% of American employees experience stress at work. There are also issues with alcoholism and substance abuse. 

Workplace absentee statistics reveal:

  • Depression costs companies $51 billion due to absenteeism (and $26 billion in treatment).

  • Workers who take sick days because of mental health problems are 7x more likely to have additional absences than workers with physical health issues.

  • Alcohol and drug use causes absenteeism that costs businesses between $437 million and $1.2 billion annually

  • Stress causes roughly one million workers to miss work every day. 

This is quite concerning, particularly if it's occurring in your company. If so, here are some things you can do to help:

  • Educate your workforce about mental health and substance abuse.

  • Promote wellbeing (sleeping, resting, exercise, and balancing work and life).

  • Offer behavioral healthcare and substance abuse treatment.

Burnout from overworking

Here's where a positive work-life balance culture will come in handy. If you're not already focused on building a workplace that promotes this, then you risk burning out your employees

This is especially an issue in the hustle and grind culture we live in. Many people have a hard time turning off after work, especially when they operate remotely or are consistently attached to their mobile devices. 

Burnout is so common that it's now considered a medical diagnosis by the World Health Organization. According to a survey by Gallup, 75% of employees suffer from the condition (even amid the pandemic). In fact, 37% stated they are working longer hours than normal since COVID. 

It's even led to more workers developing mental issues — workers are 3x more likely to report poor mental health now than before the pandemic. For example, depression increased by 102% for workers experiencing burnout. 

Fortunately, there are ways employers can overcome this issue. Here are several ideas:

  • Enforce vacation time (vs. making it optional)

  • Create an unlimited vacation policy 

  • Manage workloads efficiently to prevent overload

  • Outsource mundane tasks so workers can focus on less-tedious, meaningful work

  • Inhibit managers from sending communications after-hours 

  • Develop a four-day or reduced workweek (34% of workers prefer this)

Lack of childcare

Family comes first. It's an ideal that should be shared by everyone, including managers in the workplace. Unfortunately, workers are frequently placed in a position to choose between work and taking care of their children. 

And when push comes to shove, family always wins. This is a growing concern, especially since the pandemic. 

Back in 2018, 45% of parent workers said they missed work because of childcare breakdowns. This panned out to around 4.3 days of missed work every six months. And as a result, families are losing nearly $29 billion in wages. 

After COVID hit, this issue amplified. Roughly 80% of remote workers are planning to also provide childcare during the 2020-2021 academic year. The problem is most employers don't offer support. As of 2019, only 4% of employers provided subsidized child care programs to workers and around 11% referred child care services.

This presents an opportunity for your organization to fix this problem by either offering onsite child care services or subsidizing the costs for employees with families. 

How to talk to an employee about excessive absenteeism

talking to an employee

There's an employee or two (or three) in your workplace that's flagged for (excessive) absenteeism. What do you do? 

The first step is to talk with the individual(s) to see what's going on. Don't make assumptions — ask about their absences and why they keep happening. Be friendly and show concern, so they're more likely to open up. This is especially essential if they're dealing with an uncomfortable situation, such as alcoholism or mental illness.

See if you can get to the bottom of the issue to see how you can help. With this approach, your workers will be more proactive in coming to you when they run into a problem with childcare, bullying, or mental health concerns. 

Then if you see a pattern across the organization, maybe it's time to implement a program. For instance, if you have a lot of workers with young children missing work, then offering child care assistance is a good idea. Run a poll to see what type of support employees would like to see in the workplace. Sometimes, this will identify potential issues that can lead to problems in the future. 

The key to resolving absenteeism isn't always about firing "bad" workers. Being proactive, empathetic, and helpful is sometimes all it takes to improve workplace productivity.

If you'd like to make your workplace more engaged, then it’s time to learn how to prevent attendance issues in the workplace with Deputy.