How to Handle Employee Absenteeism – A Simple Guide for Organisations
June 23, 2022
Defining absenteeism in your workplace
People miss work for various reasons, many of which relate to sickness, personal issues and poor mental health. Unfortunately, absenteeism has serious implications for a team’s workload, their overall performance and additional stress on the leaders in the company.
When an employee does not attend a workday – even if this was scheduled or unscheduled – this is classed as an absence from the workplace. Besides other forms of time away from work (such as booked holidays or asking for days off in advance), unscheduled absenteeism is usually unplanned and can occur due to illness, personal emergencies, or caring for a family member.
In the U.S., the law classifies absences as ‘excused’, ‘unexcused’, or ‘no-fault’. Excused absences are usually known to the company and are planned in advance, while the unexcused ones are not.
Absenteeism describes the behaviour when an employee is absent from work without an acceptable excuse. Absences such as family or personal emergencies and sick days do not fall into this category. Companies usually expect a certain level of absence from the employees. However, when absence becomes regular without objective reasons, it can be a problem.
In the worst-case scenario, employers have to deal with chronic absenteeism, which means that an employee is absent from work consistently. Usually, this type of behaviour leads to termination of employment.
To better determine how you can reduce employee absenteeism rates in your workplace, start by defining what this term means for you.
Is it an unplanned or unexcused absence?
Do sick days count as absenteeism?
What about personal emergencies?
Get clear on what it means in your company when an employee misses a workday.
Causes of Employee Absenteeism
While absenteeism describes the behaviour when an employee misses work without company-accepted reason, it does not mean that absenteeism is baseless. Quite often, the company is partially responsible for absenteeism.
Sometimes, employees find it hard to be at work, and it can be the employer’s fault. We have to admit that managers can be wrong very often, and they may cause workplace deviant behaviour.
The most common causes of absenteeism include:
Harassment – employees that are often bullied and harassed usually find it difficult to come to work. This can lead to frequent absences. When dealing with harassment, you need to consider the involvement of different parties. Employees can be harassed by their supervisors or executives. Also, they may be bullied by their peers. These two cases will need to be dealt with in different manners.
Stress and Burnout – when employees find the work stressful they tend to escape from it. Workers who have experienced burnout simply have no willingness to be present at their workplace.
Mental illness – employees with mental illness may be absent from work from time to time. The challenge with this cause is that often employees are not comfortable discussing these issues at work. Creating a safe environment and having sincere communication about mental well-being may be a good solution in this case. Employees will feel safer at their work, and whenever they need sick days, they will be more inclined to provide the reason for it rather than come up with different reasons, which is often the case.
Conflict – strong disagreement with superior managers or other team members can be one of the causes of absenteeism. If the issue is not addressed on time, it will only result in more absences and unresolved problems.
Physical illness – One legitimate reason why people frequently miss work is due to impaired physical health. Research has shown that those with a chronic health condition are more likely to experience sickness absence, an outcome that can be very costly to employers. This is why it is highly important for employers to be aware of any serious physical issues among their staff, so they know how to best address the problem.
Overall, the list shows that there can be fair reasons behind absenteeism. If the employee has missed a lot of workdays, it does not necessarily mean that they do not care or are negligent. As a manager, you must analyze the reason behind this type of behaviour and proceed accordingly.
See if there are any trends or patterns in your workplace. Some questions that might help analyse the causes of absenteeism are:
Do employees tend to miss work around certain projects or meeting days?
Are there any events in your organization that seem to trigger your staff to call in sick?
Do people who know each other well (or even couples) miss work around the same time?
Are there any recurring absences every month?
While this sounds like you have to do some investigative work, ruling out potential causes of absenteeism can help you implement solutions at a later stage.
Consequences of absenteeism
The scope of employee absenteeism is often underlooked by managers. Unfortunately, many people do not realize how damaging absenteeism can be for business performance and morale within the company. While the issue may remain unnoticed for quite some time, do not think that it does not exist. Absenteeism can slowly decrease the level and quality of work within your company.
Even when absence is due to a legitimate reason, it is still a cost for a company. Since the costs caused by absenteeism are not easy to track, managers have a hard time understanding the scale of this issue.
The most apparent effect of employee absenteeism can be shown through the salaries. If employees are still reimbursed for their missed time, you are basically paying for nothing. The work that you usually pay for is not delivered; therefore, you have a loss. Through missed hours, you can pinpoint the productivity loss and even calculate the monetary damages to your company.
Besides the obvious financial loss, absenteeism also has other equally damaging consequences. Oftentimes, frequently missed workdays can even lead companies to deliver poor services or goods.
Consequences of absenteeism:
Lower quality of work
Damages to corporate culture and morale
Increased overtime for other employees
Besides decreased productivity, employees who call in sick on a regular basis also increase the risk of other workplace concerns, such as:
Poor morale among employees who have to work extra to ‘fill in’ tasks for absent coworkers
Excess manager time – as managers have to find suitable replacements for absent employees
Poor delivery of services caused by understaffing
Safety issues (caused by insufficiently trained workers that temporarily replace absent employees).
In addition to this, the costs associated with paid wages to absent employees, overtime pay for temporary workers, and administrative costs related to managing absenteeism.
Most importantly, high employee absenteeism rates in an organisation indicate some serious concerns that affect employee mental wellbeing. For example, some companies are unaware of workplace trends that cause employees to suffer from mental health issues. This is why it is crucial to do the investigative work outlined above. If certain events or projects lead to poor employee mental health, they have to be addressed as soon as possible.
It might be that some policies need to be addressed or changed, or more support should be offered to workers. Recurring absences are a legitimate warning sign that indicates the necessity of better mental health support in the workplace.
Tools for Measuring Absenteeism
Although accurately measuring employee absenteeism may appear simple in theory, many businesses fail to do so. There is more than one single type of absenteeism, so our first step is to define what information should be included in the absenteeism rate.
Since this is an important part of organisational success, it makes business sense to focus on employee absenteeism rates in the workplace.
Measuring employee absenteeism can help your business both directly and indirectly. Most importantly, it gives you the bare information about which employees frequently miss work. Besides, pointing out the absenteeism rate can help you uncover key issues within your business that you’re not necessarily aware of.
For example, if many employees frequently miss work, this could point out an issue with health and safety that could affect employee wellbeing. In this case, you need to have more data on this problem to ensure that your company culture looks after staff mental health. Some common causes of employee absenteeism that are related to employee mental health are:
A staff member suffering from an illness that affects their productivity
Bullying amongst your staff – can lead to missed workdays due to the employees’ inability to speak up
The current work schedule is unsuitable for certain employees, especially those who look after a family member.
Moreover, measuring employee absenteeism can show you what you need to correct in your business and prevent the problem from developing further. Another highly important reason to keep track of your employees’ absences is to save money spent on lost work due to high absence rates.
How to measure absenteeism
Lost time rate
The lost time calculation allows you to see an employee’s lost time due to absence as a percentage of the total time spent at work.
For example, Sheril is supposed to be at work 162.6 hours a month based on 7.5 hours of working days. She was absent for three days in a row, which leads to 22.5 lost work hours.
The percentage of lost hours is calculated like this:
Total absence (hours or days) for the period: 22.5 x 100
Possible (total) hours or days in period 162.5
Individual Absenteeism Rate
If you want to calculate an employee’s individual absenteeism rate per day, you can also choose the following method:
Divide the employee’s total unexcused absences in the specified time frame by the total workdays in the specified time frame and multiply the result by 100. If Tim has four unexcused absences in a month, the formula would be (4/20) x 100 = 20%.
Team Absenteeism Rate
Divide the team’s total unexcused absences in the specified time frame by the total number of employees multiplied by the total workdays in the specified time frame and multiply the result by 100. If your 30-person team had 20 unexcused absences in a month, the formula would be (20 / (30 x 20)) x 100 = 5%.
Offering flextime – this allows employees to work in their own schedule instead of the standard 9 to 5 one
Job-sharing – getting two or more part-time employees to share the responsibilities of a single one. This decreases the burden placed on just one person.
Allowing remote work – instead of coming to the office daily, employees can choose to work from home or wherever they prefer
Shift work – this allows more flexibility for those who cannot work early morning and prefer late evening shifts.
Hybrid workplace. Employees work both remotely and in the workplace. Depending on each company’s policy, employees can be allowed to work a certain number of days from home and get to the office for a limited number of days.
Decreasing workplace absenteeism by supporting employee mental health
Last but not least, employers shouldn’t ignore that the greatest step to decreasing absenteeism is taking care of employees’ mental health.
This can be achieved by offering mental health support alternatives, such as ongoing employee therapy. SupportRoom is a digital therapy provider specialising in workplace mental health committed to improving mental health at work. Besides, it helps leaders identify mental health trends in the workplace with data-driven insights. This way, you can implement changes and mental health initiatives knowing exactly what’s going on behind the scenes.
Absenteeism and Employee Mental Health
Out of all mental health-related causes of employee absenteeism, depression is the most likely cause of employees to routinely miss workdays. Unfortunately, depressed employees are also more likely to engage in other harmful behaviours, such as substance and alcohol abuse, and self-harm – all of which can increase the tendency to call in sick at work.
Mental health – a leading cause of missed workdays
In the UK alone, mental health conditions are the fourth leading cause of workplace absences.
Mental health concerns are complex. They are often caused by multiple factors, but a poor working environment can exacerbate symptoms, making it more difficult for someone to cope with them. Frequent causes that make people vulnerable to psychological distress are:
Money, housing and work concerns
Life changes (divorce, separation, moving house)
Substance abuse problems
Someone who is already vulnerable due to personal life issues might be further affected by workplace stress. It is important for employers to recognise that there are often more aspects besides work-related issues that impact their employees’ mental health.
And, as data shows, unhappy employees are not productive ones. Poor employee mental health and wellbeing have a domino effect on organizational success and productivity.
Fortunately, there are many things that can be done in this regard. Studies show that implementing workplace mental health initiatives can lead to better employee performance and fewer days of missed work.
Mental health support is essential to reduce absenteeism caused by mental health concerns
Employees call in sick at work because they don’t feel capable of handling their mental health symptoms by themselves. Add in a stressful week with endless deadlines, and you have a team of anxious employees who cannot deliver the results you need.
What if you offered mental health support on time before things got too overwhelming for your team? What if every single employee knew how to recognise the first signs of stress, manage their emotions and learn how to look after themselves? This would have manifested in a team of people who:
Feel secure at work knowing there is a professional they can talk to.
Are aware of their triggers and what induces their anxiety.
Know exactly when to ask for help and when to set boundaries.
Offering on-demand mental health support solves the problem of not having anyone to talk to that many people have. Therapy is always private and confidential, so employees do not have to worry about disclosing too much or too little.
SupportRoom’s therapy platform has a range of flexible interventions that benefit employee mental health.
How to Reduce Absenteeism Levels in Your Business
Is there anything employers can do?
The increasing complexity of the workforce calls for better stress-management solutions. Companies can no longer afford to sustain long-term efforts without adequate mental health initiatives that ensure employee wellbeing.
Support can come from various sources, including social, health, professional, and work-life balance initiatives, that any company can adopt to boost their workplace mental health.
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It is crucial for employees to know that there is someone they can talk to when they feel overwhelmed. Employee therapy support should no longer be seen as an optional tool in the workplace, but rather as a compulsory measure that prevents sickness and absenteeism.
Data shows that preventive mental health support in the workplace can save UK companies up to £8 billion per year. This change can come from initiatives where employees are offered informative materials, risk assessment questionnaires, and therapy-based mental health support. Companies can get in touch with mental health providers that offer virtual therapy and tools for employees to prevent high workplace absenteeism rates.
Being listened to matters more than we think
Even when life gets overwhelming, we still have to deliver and show up. However, there is only so much we can do to manage ourselves before we hit a wall. The need for mental health support is underestimated –everyone needs a listening ear and a supportive place where they can unpack life’s challenges.
Why therapy works
Talking therapy is one of the most effective and researched interventions for mental health concerns. It helps individuals get clarity on complex issues in their lives while being supported by a non-judgemental, empathic therapist. Therapy works in a straightforward way:
It empowers people to take accountability for their mental wellbeing
It creates a space where difficult emotions are seen and accepted
Therapists help clients set well-being goals and develop new skills to handle difficult situations.
Ways to deal with employee absenteeism
It is difficult to reduce absenteeism once it becomes a habit amongst your employees. This is why it is important to monitor absence rates and implement some measures before the problem becomes too advanced.
Focus on employee engagement
Engaged employees are more motivated to come to work. They also feel more connected to their job and co-workers and find work more meaningful. Some employers find various ways to engage employees in their work, such as offering incentives for perfect attendance or only allowing limited sick days. However, while these ideas might work in theory, encouraging workers to attend work even on their sick days can compromise the other employees’ health.
Instead of offering this kind of incentive, employers can benefit more simply by creating a great work environment where everyone is eager to work.
Allow employees to work from home
Create a generous work-from-home policy. Oftentimes, employers take sick days for reasons other than being sick. Sometimes they are caring for a loved one, taking family members to the doctor, or for other personal reasons such as a child’s performance, etc. If your employees know they can work from home instead of calling in sick, you’ll get happier and more productive employees.
Implement an absenteeism policy
Businesses need to have clear absenteeism policies that define what those are and how the leader can deal with excessive employee absenteeism. The policy should state what number of absences are tolerated and contain clearly defined disciplinary actions that can be applied when an employee violates the policy.
Having these facts helps employers remain objective and just towards all employees. Besides, workers have more clarity over the implications of their absenteeism.
Consider having a flexible work policy
While an absence policy informs of the consequences of repeated missed workdays, a flexible work policy can lighten up the environment in the workplace.
This type of arrangement can have positive effects on employee engagement and retention and can even improve overall attendance. A flexible work policy can reduce stress amongst workers in case they have other commitments to attend to at certain parts of the day.
Build a strong team culture
When a team of employees shares a strong bond, it is more difficult for one team member to repeatedly miss work. This is because they know that their absences will negatively impact the rest of the team. Similarly, if one employee misses work for a good reason, the rest of the team will be more motivated to pick up the remaining work and cover for the absent worker.
Set inspirational goals
It starts with the basics of communicating expectations and documenting an absence policy. People work for a paycheck, but nobody lives for money. If we want to boost attendance, we need to inspire them with a clear organisational purpose. By establishing and communicating that purpose, team members will be more inspired to show up and deliver incredible work on a regular basis.
Tips for Reducing Employee Absenteeism
After analysing the causes of employee absenteeism in your workplace, and determining how it impacts your business, the next step is finding solutions to reduce it.
Some actionable steps are:
Have a clear attendance policy and communicate expectations
People are not going to know what they are allowed in terms of missing work unless you community this to them. Having a clear policy in place that explains the procedures around missing work, how to report absences, and the implications of this are essential. This policy could also contain information about the short and long-term repercussions of absences, as well as how you as an employer will follow up on the missed workdays.
Once you have the policy ready, discuss it with all staff members and use it as a resource to communicate expectations about work attendance. Aim to be consistent with the measures you implement to build credibility among your staff.
Let employees know when they have done something well. Frequent and effective feedback ensures that your workforce understands that you appreciate their efforts. If you fail to do so, your employees will think that you never notice their work, which means that you also don’t notice when they’re missing.
Reward good attendance
You might think that attending all workdays is part of someone’s job. While this is true, we should not disregard that there are serious, legitimate reasons why someone is absent from their duty. As much as you can, let people know that you appreciate their consistency in showing up at work. If you can, feel free to also offer rewards to those that display and maintain good attendance throughout the year. This makes them feel as if their efforts are acknowledged. You also show that you value them. In the long term, this can strengthen the relationship between employees and employers, leading to better employee retention.
Mental health support can reduce absenteeism levels in your workplace
To sum up, absenteeism is a huge issue. However, it is still manageable. You will not solve this problem by 100%, but you can decrease it so that it has less impact on your business. If absenteeism is not manageable, then be bold and take disciplinary action. You want to be supportive, but you should not condone irresponsible behaviour that goes against company policy.
Last but not least, employers shouldn’t ignore that the greatest step to decreasing absenteeism is taking care of employees’ mental health.
More importantly, mental health seems to have double the effect of physical health. This means that people are more likely to miss work when they are experiencing mental health issues compared to when they feel physically unwell.
This is just another reason for companies to prioritise mental wellness at work.
This can be achieved by offering mental health support alternatives, such as ongoing employee therapy. SupportRoom is a digital therapy provider specialising in workplace mental health committed to improving mental health at work.
The role of therapy in improving mental wellbeing and treating mental health conditions has been extensively studied – it is one of the most efficient, safe, and reliable tools. Given the highly stressful environment we work in, most people can benefit from ongoing employee therapy.
It is for this reason that SupportRoom aims to make workplaces a more mental-health-friendly environment. We don’t just aim to help employees thrive, but we also indirectly help organizations become more productive and successful.