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Absenteeism in the workplace

Absenteeism in the workplace

Artwork by: Katya Simacheva

  • What are the 3 types of absences in the workplace?
  • What’s the difference between being absent and a case of absenteeism? 
  • What are the consequences of absenteeism?
  • 7 Types of things that cause absenteeism
  • How can you reduce absenteeism in the workplace?
  • Key takeaways 

Absenteeism in the workplace is a big deal. Being absent from work not only affects your company, it could cost you your job. We’ll give you the low down on absenteeism.

Being absent from work doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? Well, if you only miss a day once in a while, then you’re right. But, for many companies, the impact of people being repeatedly absent has led to a high rate of absenteeism that can cost them a lot of productivity and money. What’s the difference between time off and absenteeism? Why do people skip work and drive up absenteeism? We’ll answer these questions while we cover the following topics:

  • What is absenteeism?

  • What are the three types of absenteeism?

  • Being absent versus absenteeism

  • 7 Major causes of absenteeism

  • How to reduce absenteeism.

Statistical Insight

Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2022 the average number of absences for employed full-time wage and salary workers in the United States was 3.6 percent per day. The reasons: 

  • Illness or injury - 2.6 percent

  • Other reasons - 1.0 percent

What are the 3 types of absences in the workplace?

Being absent from work is anytime that you are not at your job as scheduled. The term absenteeism refers to a situation where someone repeatedly misses work for unexpected reasons. Occasionally being absent is normal. When it becomes excessive, it is absenteeism and will cause problems not only for that one person’s job but for others that work in that area, customers, or others that are dependent on that person’s productivity.

There are generally three types of absences:

  1. Planned time off. As the name implies, this is time off that has been planned for in advance with your supervisor or boss. Examples of planned time off are appointments that cannot be scheduled outside of work, funerals, bereavement time, jury duty, approved vacation time, and various types of leave (family, medical, military).

  2. Unplanned time off. Sometimes life happens and people need unscheduled time off to deal with it. This can be any type of personal emergency, but some common examples are family illness, accident, home emergency (fire, flood, etc.), car breakdown, or school emergencies. 

  3. Unexpected or unexcused absence. This is a situation where no warning is given, and there may be no good reason for the absence. If someone just decides to take a day off and does not communicate with their boss, then this would be an unexcused absence. Being very late to work could also be considered an unexpected absence.

What’s the difference between being absent and a case of absenteeism? 

As we noted, you can be absent on occasion without being considered a case of absenteeism. To be a case of absenteeism, you would need to be frequently absent. If you’re using your planned time off and are not exceeding the company standards for this, then you would not fall into this category. If you have any cases of unplanned or unexpected time off, then you might fall under the absenteeism rules for your company or organization. 

How much absenteeism is acceptable? Since absenteeism is considered a bad thing, most companies would say that zero is acceptable. However, the reality is that there will be some. Most companies have policies governing time off. Every company is different and there is no hard and fast rule for this, but every business should have policies regarding the number of days off and missed days. A couple of typical policies are no more than two unexcused absences in thirty days or no more than three unexcused absences in ninety days. 

Planned time off such as vacation and leave should also have clear policies established. These are going to vary widely based on the industry, job, and whether you are hourly, salaried, or contract. Most policies guiding planned time off are very firm and do not allow employees to deviate from them.

What are the consequences of absenteeism?

Missing work doesn’t just impact what you do, it affects your entire work group and the working environment. Obviously, work productivity is lost when you’re not working. Maybe someone can pick up the slack, and maybe not. It depends on the circumstances. But you know it’s not good for the business when you’re out.

Absenteeism costs the company in terms of lost productivity, for sure, but it also costs because they may have to adjust schedules and move people around to cover for the absent employee. It could require hiring temporary staff or even paying people overtime. Being short-staffed can also lead to customer satisfaction and product delivery issues. These are all hard, tangible costs. 

The not-so-obvious costs are the mental impacts on the other people working there. Having staff out makes the people that are working feel resentful and possibly overworked and stressed out. This can lead to more people being absent, which can snowball and severely impact the business.

For someone that is chronically absent from work (absenteeism), the ramifications can be significant. They can range from lack of promotions to disciplinary action to even termination. Make sure you understand your company’s attendance policies. If you find yourself on the wrong side of the policies, then take action to alleviate the situation or be prepared to find a new job.

7 Types of things that cause absenteeism

There are a lot of challenges that can cause people to miss work. Here are some of the most common categories of things that create absenteeism:

  1. Being sick. Just about everyone gets sick at one time or another. Missing a day or two from work because you’re sick is one of the major causes of being absent.

  2. Major illness. If you’re very sick or have a major medical problem, then you could miss a lot of work. This could also potentially require medical leave.

  3. Family problems. Dealing with family issues is another major cause for people to miss work. Family emergencies happen to most people. Childcare challenges, school issues, or family medical problems are all things that can come up.

  4. Commuting challenges. Another fact of life for many people is that they have to commute a long way (or time) to work. Many things can go wrong. Bad weather, car trouble, accidents, traffic, and public transportation issues.

  5. Boss problems. You may or may not be surprised that the vast majority of workers don’t like their boss or their management. This can be very stressful, which leads to absenteeism.

  6. Mental health. Having a difficult or very stressful job can cause you to miss work. Issues at work can lead to serious mental health issues like depression and anxiety. This can also lead to burnout and other mental health problems.

  7. Bullying or harassment. Bullying in the workplace is a major issue. Mistreatment and abusive behavior in the workplace causes many employees to miss work. Harassment is another big problem for many people. Harassment is illegal in most cases, but it’s still prevalent in the workplace.

Statistical Insight

Around 84 percent of workers in the U.S. feel that their bad manager causes unnecessary stress in the workplace. And nearly 40 percent of people reported that they were affected by some sort of bullying in the workplace.

How can you reduce absenteeism in the workplace?

For employers and business leaders, there are things you can do to help minimize absenteeism in your organization. You can’t keep people from getting sick or having family issues, but there are things you can do to make your workplace more flexible and capable of better handling time off for people in those situations. 

Let’s look at a few things that can be done to address some of the causes of absenteeism.

  • Work-life balance. Creating programs that allow people to have a better work-life balance will make them happier with their jobs and thereby reduce absenteeism. Flexible schedules, work-from-home, and childcare programs are a few things your company can do to promote improved work-life balance. 

  • Attendance programs. A simple thing a company can do is to create initiatives that encourage and reward good attendance. Everyone appreciates being recognized. So, why not let people know they’re doing a great job by incentivizing outstanding attendance? The reward could be monetary, perks, gifts, or even additional days off.

  • Employee engagement. Creating a positive company culture plays a big part in having happy employees. It takes time to do, but it can be done. Having programs for employee health and wellness, training and development, and company events are all things you can do to improve morale and motivate the employees.

  • Follow the leader. If your management is not setting a good example, then you can’t expect the employees to be better. Train your managers about attendance problems and make sure that they adhere to the standards.

When you understand what absenteeism is and what causes it, then you’re better equipped to deal with it. Whether you're an employee or an employer, absenteeism will affect you. Knowing how to handle it is half the battle. 

Key takeaways 

  1. Absenteeism is when an employee regularly misses work. 

  2. Occasional absences can be planned (such as vacation time) or unplanned (such as an emergency).

  3. There are a number of things that can cause people to be absent.

  4. There are several ways employers can reduce absenteeism in the workplace.

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