What Is Absenteeism And How Can You Address It?

3rd Jul, 2020 | Trends, Data & Insights

How do we get people to show up more often? Absenteeism forces businesses to ask the question on a daily basis – every time someone calls in sick or has to leave early. So how can businesses better understand this problem and make it easier for people to make it to work?

What Is Absenteeism?

Simply put, absenteeism is the habit of being missing from work. Largely, it refers to the issues that arise when these absences become deliberate, individually frequent or widespread throughout a team. While the nature of being human means that genuine absences, for illness or personal issues, will always occur, keeping unnecessary absences to a minimum is an ongoing battle for businesses everywhere.   

Why Is It A Problem?

Unplanned absences like sick leave, lateness and personal days cost businesses over $1b each month. Every day in this country 1 in 40 people are absent from work. For businesses with hourly workers, this means their remaining staff are overworked and their productivity and service levels slashed. For businesses paying salaries, sick leave sees them paying for zero output on that day.

While it is important that people are able to stay home and rest when they are unwell or can leave to deal with a crisis, it’s also important for businesses to address unnecessary absences and have the plans in place to maintain productivity when people are away.   

What Causes Absenteeism?

When it comes down to it the causes of absenteeism can be categorised into three main issues. Employees either face:  

Physical Distress

The staff member is physically unable to perform at their best due to:

–    Injury
–    Illness
–    Fatigue

Mental Distress

The staff member is unable to focus, or being in the workplace causes feelings of depression or anxiety. Such issues include:

– Mental illness
– Stress
– Disengagement with their role
– The effects of bullying
– Bereavement


The workplace culture or type of work does not allow for the employee to complete their job remotely to manage other responsibilities such as:

– Childcare
– Eldercare
– Appointments (medical, handymen, etc)

How Do We Cope With Absenteeism?

While there are certainly ways to improve employee presence at work, no business can eradicate absenteeism. People get sick, they have accidents and their family members pass away. These things are inevitable but there are ways that businesses can reduce the impact of the absences that do take place.

Temporary staff

By accessing staff who are immediately available, businesses can look to recover the productivity lost when someone stays home. Using a temporary staffing platform to find last-minute staff, businesses with hourly workers, or who need someone to perform standardised, or easily teachable tasks, can ensure the day runs smoothly even when their regular staff can’t be there.

Help staff return to work

In issues of illness or injury, businesses can look to work with the employee to recover some hours of lost productivity rather than prolonging absences. By offering reduced duties or partial days, businesses can create environments where ill and injured employees can start doing some of their work earlier than if they waited to recover fully.

How Do We Reduce Absenteeism?

Given that each employee is ultimately the one who chooses whether or not to come to work, it’s easy to believe that absenteeism is entirely an issue with employee attitudes. While some cases of absenteeism can certainly be attributed to the lax and lazy employee, by and large absenteeism (particularly where it is widespread throughout a business) is encouraged, or worsened by poor workplace culture.

In order for businesses to address absenteeism issues, they first need to understand the causes and how their culture is creating or aggravating these situations.

Once they understand the leading causes of absenteeism in their business, employers can work to reduce absence through cultural change.

Say the main reasons for absence in the business are child care and appointments. Shifting the culture to one that embraces flexible hours or a work-from-home policy would increase productivity by allowing people to meet work and personal responsibilities at the same time.

Equally, a culture that supports reasonable workloads (by bringing in temporary help at peak times, or setting sensible deadlines) may reduce the instances of stress, fatigue, and illness-related absences.

By examining and addressing the deeper cultural issues around absenteeism, while also taking the time to understand how the culture can address and support absentees to be more present, businesses stand to cut absenteeism considerably.

How Can Encouraging Absence Reduce The Impacts Of Absenteeism?

Interestingly, widespread and frequent absenteeism can sometimes be alleviated by creating a culture that supports proactive absences.

When staff are unwell, distracted by personal issues or simply rundown because they are holding on to too much of their annual leave, they can fall into the habit of presenteeism – or showing up to work but being largely unproductive.

Additionally, staff unwell with infection are at high risk of infecting others, multiplying productivity losses exponentially.

By promoting proactive absences, like rightful sick days or the regular usage of accrued leave, businesses can ensure staff are well-rested (non-contagious) and productive. For this reason, it is important that businesses assess the attitudes to leave within their workplace and move towards a culture that makes regular leave encouraged and achievable.

Overall, by understanding the impacts and causes of absenteeism, businesses can drive their culture in a direction that supports employee presence at work while also encouraging proactive leave. In this way, businesses can reclaim lost productivity while they work to ensure everyone is happy, healthy and hitting targets at work.