Absenteeism | 10 mins read

Workplace Absenteeism- What You Need to Know

workplace absenteeism what you need to know
Mary Kate Morrow

By Mary Kate Morrow

What is Absenteeism in an Office?

Employee absenteeism costs businesses in the United States hundreds of billions per year in lost productivity and bottom line profitability. As such, it is essential for companies to address, monitor, and respond to workplace absenteeism.

The term absenteeism refers to employee absence at the workplace. Workplace absenteeism becomes a significant issue when employee absences are unexcused, unscheduled, or excessive.

There are many misconceptions about workplace absenteeism that must be addressed in order for businesses to confront and reduce absenteeism rates effectively. For example, many business professionals do not know that the leading cause of employee absenteeism in the United States is attributed to depression.

There are many different reasons for employee absenteeism, both personal and professional. For example, excessive absenteeism may be a result of chronic employee illness or due to low employee morale levels.

Legitimate employee absences including sick days, family emergencies, and scheduled vacations are expected in any workplace setting. However, unauthorized and excessive absenteeism results in significant workplace consequences including lost productivity and decreased bottom line profitability.

When both employers and employees gain a more comprehensive understanding surrounding the causes and effects of workplace absenteeism, everyone involved benefits.

The Top Reasons for Absentee Employees

Employee absenteeism is a wide spread issue, both in the United States and abroad. Consequences for absenteeism include lost productivity and reductions in bottom line profitability.

In order to understand and combat workplace absenteeism most effectively, business owners and employees alike must understand it. There are many reasons for absentee employees in the workplace including-

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1. Familial Obligations

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Employee's family members and their needs can impact absenteeism in the workplace. For example, an employee may have childcare responsibilities or a sick relative that needs caretaking.

When family responsibilities impact absenteeism levels in the workplace, opening a line of communication between business owners, management, and employees is a great solution. When employees feel they can be open and honest with their company about their familial responsibilities, adjustments can be made and absenteeism rates lowered.

2. High Stress

Closely related to stress in the workplace, employee depression and mental health issues impact absenteeism rates significantly. Studies have shown that in the United States depression is the leading cause of employee absenteeism.

Not only does depression negatively impact attendance but it also can impact employee morale and productivity levels.

4. Bullying or Harassment

Studies show that both workplace harassment and bullying causes absenteeism levels to increase significantly. In fact, bullied or harassed employees are much more likely to call in sick than employees who are not harassed or bullied in the workplace.

To avoid this, employers, management, and human resource professionals must make sure there are strict guidelines and prescribed disciplinary action in place regarding workplace harassment and bullying. Guidelines and disciplinary action should be clearly listed in employee handbooks and employees should be regularly encouraged to address any instances of harassment or bullying directly with the human resources department.

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5. Illness and Injury

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Both employee illness and injury can result in absenteeism within the workplace. During the flu and cold seasons in particular absenteeism rates increase for both part and full time staff members.

Employers must make sure that their attendance policy includes information regarding sick leave and medical leave protocol. Unfortunately, some companies do not provide their employees with enough sick days.

Alternatively, employees may feel unable to call out of work when they are sick due to financial reasons or fearing disciplinary action. Workplaces that put employees in a position where they feel obligated to come to work sick, can result in an unintentional but very significant reduction in both employee morale and bottom line profits.

The Impact of Absenteeism

Workplace absenteeism is detrimental to both businesses and their employees, influencing bottom line profitability, employee morale levels, and more. Employee absenteeism results in the most significant consequences for employers.

In the United States alone, employee absenteeism is estimated to cost $3,600 per year per hourly employee. The same study found that United States employers lost an average of $2,660 per year per salaried employee on staff as a result of workplace absenteeism.

Unfortunately, excessive absenteeism even by one employee left unaddressed can make other employees feel that behavior is acceptable and result in a high absenteeism workplace issue. When excessive absenteeism and unexcused absences are not addressed promptly, other employees feel less motivated and may even begin to uncharacteristically miss work themselves.

As such, chronic absenteeism should be addressed quickly and appropriately by business owners and management professionals. However, employers must make sure that disciplinary action is not taken against an employee who is absent for a legally protected reason.

It is important that business owners understand how their own actions including restrictive sick leave policies can negatively impact their business bottom line and employee morale at the workplace. For example, if an employee is not provided with enough sick days and fears disciplinary action for missing a shift due to illness, they may come in and spread their sickness to other coworkers and clients.

Additionally, employees may refuse to miss work due to financial constraints. With so many workers in the United States grossly underpaid, financial need can motivate a sick employee to go into work for fear of losing their job or access to necessary income.

This phenomenon is especially present in the foodservice industry with studies showing that 53% of norovirus outbreaks are attributed to sick food handlers. With the capability for a single food handler to infect hundreds of people, a failure to provide employees with sick leave or sick days appropriately can result in a public health disaster.

How to Reduce Absenteeism Among Employees

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Employee absenteeism is increasing in the workplace, with 40% of staff members reporting in 2017 that they called in sick when they were actually not sick. The percentage increased 5% from the previous year.

The statistics and studies regarding excessive absenteeism in the United States make it clear that changes must be made. As such, the establishment and maintenance of an absenteeism policy and proactive steps to reduce absenteeism should be a top priority for all businesses.

6 steps to reduce absenteeism in the workplace include-

1. Attendance Policy

An established employee attendance policy that both business owners and employees feel is fair is crucial to reducing excessive absenteeism in the workplace. An employee attendance policy should include information such as disciplinary action guidelines and recognition for good attendance of employees.

The attendance policy should also address different forms of absenteeism such as unscheduled absences as well as work days where employees show up late. Once the attendance policy is established it should be displayed prominently and provided to current employees and new hires alike.

2. Disciplinary Action

Enforcing the disciplinary action outlined in an attendance policy is crucial to reduce absenteeism in the workplace. Consistent enforcement of an established attendance policy avoids perceptions of favoritism or nepotism in the workplace.

Disciplinary action should be applied to everyone on staff equally, from the lowest paid employee to the highest paid supervisors.

3. Comprehensive Records

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Tracking employee absences is crucial to the proper enforcement of any good attendance policy. Whether through a time clock app or a spreadsheet, employers must make sure that employee absences are recorded in one place.

Without a centralized location to record employee attendance and absenteeism, it is unlikely that absenteeism rates will decrease. Additionally, records are useful for proving chronic absenteeism and excessive absenteeism should an employee need to be terminated for those reasons.

4. Promptness

Swiftly addressing occurrences when employees miss work is essential to reduce absenteeism effectively. A common mistake that business owners make is not addressing the situation promptly, sometimes even letting another unexcused absence occur before initiating a conversation with the employee involved.

Whenever disciplinary action is necessary, employers must make sure to clearly state what an employee should expect in both the present and future.

5. Identify Root Causes

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Too often business owners attempt to reduce absenteeism by addressing the symptoms instead of the root cause. Open and honest conversations between employees and management are essential to understanding underlying scheduling conflicts or personal responsibilities outside the workplace that influences attendance.

Once a cause is identified, employees and management can work together to address it. Possible solutions could include adjustments to work hours or remote work privileges.

6. Reward Good Attendance

In the same way that disciplinary action is prescribed for chronic absenteeism employers must make sure to recognize good attendance in the workplace. When employees feel supported and recognized for their efforts to maintain good attendance at the workplace, they will likely have a boost in both their employee morale and overall productivity levels.

Additionally, recognizing employee good attendance and great work performance is a low cost solution to combat high absenteeism workplace long term. Financial incentives and personalized thank you messages are two ways for employers to recognize employee attendance and performance.

Steps to Terminate an Employee for Excessive Absenteeism

Unfortunately, even with a good attendance policy in place and open lines of communication, workplace absenteeism can still be an issue. In some cases, management may choose to or be forced to terminate an employee for excessive absenteeism.

Steps for terminating an employee for excessive absenteeism include-

1. Documentation

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Proper documentation is crucial for avoiding potential legal consequences regarding employee dismissals on the grounds of workplace absenteeism. Documentation that proves excessive absenteeism occurred should be readily available at any time it is needed.

Many states allow for employers to terminate employment at will for their staff members. If at will termination is not an option, it is important for business owners and management professionals to understand legalities before the employee termination takes place.

2. Security

In order to avoid uncomfortable workplace conversations or even potentially violent interactions from occurring it is best to be careful when terminating an employee. Discussions regarding employee terminations should occur privately with a human resources professional present as a third party witness.

Ideally, termination can occur when there are not very many people present at the office such as before or after the majority of employees are on the clock. Limiting potentially uncomfortable interactions between a terminated employee and all other staff members after their termination is crucial.

3. Exit Plan

When an employee is terminated they should be provided the opportunity to collect their personal property. If possible, security personnel or supervisor should escort the worker from the property.

If there are access codes, keys, or passwords that a terminated employee has access to, they should be changed. Doing so will reduce the likelihood of security breaches or unauthorized office visits.

4. Consistency

Employee terminations can easily become emotional and dramatic. To avoid this from occurring, management should keep a professional attitude throughout the entire termination process.

Any attitude that is not professional can be easily misinterpreted by the terminated employee. The employee should be well aware that they have been terminated by the time they are escorted off the property.


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  • Workplace absenteeism is a serious issue that affects both bottom line profitability and productivity levels.
  • The top reason for employee absenteeism is attributed to employee depression, other reasons include familial obligations and injury.
  • Both employees and management need to work together to increase good attendance and decrease employee absenteeism levels in the workplace.
  • If an employee is terminated for absenteeism, there are certain protocols that should be followed.

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