16 April 2019

When running a business, dealing with absent employees comes with the territory. Most of the time, there's a genuine reason for them being away from work. However, this isn't always the case.

So managing employee absences is vitally important to the success of your company. Having a high level of absenteeism can lead to many negatives. Such as a decrease in morale, quality of work, and an increase in dismissals.

In this guide, we'll discuss the different types of absences, what causes them, and what you can do to reduce absenteeism in the workplace.

What is absenteeism in the workplace?

Absenteeism in the workplace is when an employee doesn't turn up to work at their scheduled time. However, this doesn't include occasional absences for unavoidable and legitimate reasons, such as sickness.

So as an employer, you need to fully understand the different types of absences that can take place within your company.

What are the different types of absenteeism?

There are three different types of absence. To successfully manage the issue in your company, you must understand them. So, let's discuss them in more detail:

Authorised and approved absences

An approved absence refers to any time off that has been previously agreed to between employer and employee. Common examples of this are:

You should prepare for an authorised absence. Always ensure work is completed and scheduled for when the employee is off work.

Unauthorised absences

Unauthorised absenteeism is when an employee doesn't turn up to work but doesn't make you or their line manager know. This type of absence can quickly become an issue.

It can be highly frustrating for their colleagues, as someone will need to pick up the absent employee's work whilst they're off.

Unplanned absences

Sometimes, absences can't be avoided and are completely unplanned. Although they can disrupt the workplace, these types of absences are part of an employee's life.

Typically, an unplanned absence from work will only be for a singular day. If the employee requires more time off, you may need to grant them a period of personal leave. Examples of this form of absence are:

  • Family emergencies.
  • Car trouble or other transport issues.
  • Sick days.

You may have also heard the term "chronic absenteeism", and you may be wondering what makes an absence chronic. It’s important that you understand what it is and how to spot the signs.

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What is chronic absenteeism?

Chronic absenteeism is when an employee is absent from work consistently. This can lead to them not being able to complete their work in a timely and productive manner. This type of absenteeism typically violates a company's absence policy.

As an employer, you need to understand what can cause excessive and chronic absenteeism in your company. Doing so can go a long way to helping you to manage it.

What are the causes of excessive absenteeism?

There are many different reasons and causes of absenteeism. To manage absenteeism better, you need to become familiar with them.

So let's discuss them in more detail:

Minor illness or injury

This is likely the most common form of absence you'll find in your company. Many employees will have a day or two off work throughout the year due to minor illness, with bugs being easily passed through the office.

The number of absences due to minor illnesses may increase during winter, which is usually the height of flu season.

Major illness or long-term medical conditions

An employee suffering from a long-term medical condition or major illness will likely be absent from work for a prolonged period.

You should provide the returning employee with a specialised and unique return-to-work programme. This can include some flexible working arrangements, as well as a customised environment to ease them back into working  .

Workplace bullying or harassment

Workplace harassment or bullying can also be a major cause of an employee not showing up to work. These are serious offences and can be carried out in many ways, such as:

  • Denying an employee training opportunities.
  • Unfair treatment or discrimination.
  • Spreading rumours or making unwanted offensive comments.

They can cause someone to feel uncomfortable about coming to work, with no option but to take some time away.

As an employer, you have a duty to ensure bullying or harassment doesn't take place in your company. Failure to do so can lead to claims being raised against you to an employment tribunal.

Mental health issues

Mental health conditions such as stress, depression, and anxiety can often lead to an employee feeling unwell and unable to come to work.

These conditions can be caused by family, personal or financial issues. If this is the case, you need to show total support to any of your employees that are struggling. And point them in the direction of professionals who can help.

Family emergencies

It's not always easy for employees to leave their family or personal issues out of work, meaning they may require some time away.

This can include a medical emergency or a bereavement. You should always be respectful if your employees are going through a family emergency, and not pressure them to return to work. They may need to go on personal leave for an extended period.

Childcare issues

Any employees you have with children may face the occasional childcare issue. This may require them to take a day's absence. For example, their childminder may come down with an illness or face an emergency meaning they can no longer take care of the children.

Again, you should be understanding if this is the case. Yes it's frustrating, but it can't be helped.

Employee burnout

A poor work-life balance may lead to some employees becoming burnt out. Employee burnout can cause stress and anxiety about coming to work due to their workload.

You should always be aware of the work demands you are putting on your employees to ensure this doesn't happen in the future.

Workplace conflict

Sometimes conflict between two employees may happen in your business. And, continuing conflict may lead to an employee feeling uncomfortable and worried about coming to work.

You should always look to resolve any workplace conflicts that arise in your company as soon as possible. This will hopefully avoid an employee needing to take a leave of absence.

Substance abuse

You may have an employee who has a problem with drinking alcohol or taking drugs. Ongoing substance abuse can lead to an increase in unauthorised absences.

If you suspect an employee has a problem with this, you should speak with them privately to try and arrange professional help and support.

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How many days are considered to be excessive absenteeism?

There's no set amount of days that explain how many days make an absence excessive.

However, a good rule to use in your company is three or more unexcused absences in a 90-day period. An employee going over three days in that time period may have problems that you need to address.

How does absenteeism affect the workplace?

There are many indirect costs that come with high levels of absenteeism in the workplace. You may not be aware of how it can affect your company. So as an employer, you need to understand them.

Let's discuss each one in more detail:

Lost productivity and employee morale

High levels of absences can lead to reduced productivity and employee morale. Not just for the member of staff that is off work, but for other members of the workforce.

For example, other employees who have been covering the extra workload due to frequent absences may become burnt out and stressed. This is especially the case if the absent employee is senior and important to the business.

Someone having to cover someone else's workload over a period of time may lead to workplace conflict between co-workers.

A financial loss for the company

High levels of absenteeism can lead to financial losses for your company.

If their absence leads to dismissal, there are increased administrative costs to hire replacements. As well as costs for the actual dismissal, there is a potential decrease in profits due to a drop in productivity.

Creates a negative company culture

Habitual absences from a singular employee have the potential to create a lot of tension throughout the workplace.

The employees who have had to cover their workload whilst they were out of work may feel taken advantage of. So, when the employee returns to work this may boil over into conflict. You need to make sure you don't overpower your employees with workloads due to absences.

Can you dismiss an employee for excessive workplace absenteeism?

Yes, you can dismiss an employee for excessive absenteeism. However, you need to give the employee the best possible chance to improve their attendance. As well as this, you must follow a fair dismissal procedure, failure to do so can lead to claims being raised against you.

There are a few possible reasons that can lead to dismissal due to absenteeism. They are:

  • For example an employee lying about their reason for the absence.
  • For example, the employee not being able complete their work duties due to their absences.
  • Another substantial reason. For example, an employee's low attendance is harming your business.

How do you measure absences in your business?

You can measure the rate of absences in your company by finding the absenteeism rate.

The absenteeism rate is the annual recording of staff absences that are caused by sickness and other personal reasons. The rate for your company can be measured against a single employee, a team, or the overall company.

So, you need to know how to calculate the rate for your business.

How to calculate absenteeism rates in your company

The following calculation can help you to measure the rate of absences:

  • The number of someone's absences during a period of time divided by the total period.
  • Multiply the number by a hundred to get a percentage.

For example, three absences over 25 working days. 3 divided by 25 = 0.12, 0.12 x 100 = 12% absence rate. However, you shouldn't include agreed leaves within your calculation.

Reducing absenteeism in your company should be one of your main priorities. And, there are plenty of things you can do to improve your absence rate.

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How to reduce absenteeism in the workplace

There are many things you can do to manage absenteeism in your company and improve the overall employee experience.

Provide flexible working opportunities

Providing flexible working opportunities can be a great help to your employees, especially those who struggle with childcare.

You should look to provide flexi hours and work-from-home options to accommodate your employee's needs.

Implement Employee Assistance Programmes

Employee assistance programmes (EAP) focus on both health education and lifestyle modifications to help create a better work-life balance.

Providing employee wellbeing programmes to your staff is a good way to reduce employee absences, whilst increasing their confidence in you.

Communicate with absent employees

You should always communicate with employees on long-term absence, for example maternity leave. This will help to make them feel more comfortable about their return.

On the other hand, you should reach out to employees who are absent without reason, as there may be a genuine reason behind it. This will only help to improve the relationship between employer and employee.

Conduct return-to-work interviews

Schedule a return to work interview with employees who are returning from a period of absence. This meaning can help to find the root cause of their absence, it also shows that you support them.

For example, there may be an ongoing issue that has led to the employee having regular absences that you weren't previously aware of. Allowing the employee to explain can help to find a solution moving forwards.

Create an absence management policy

A good way to reduce employee absenteeism is to create an absence management policy. As an employer, you need to know what to include in your policy when creating one. Such as:

  • Details of how to report an unplanned absence, and who it should be reported to.
  • Details of how you'll track absenteeism within your company.
  • Details of your sick note policy and requirements.
  • Details of how wages, salaries, overtime pay and bonuses are affected by absences.
  • Details of disciplinary procedures and actions for excessive absenteeism. This could range from a verbal warning to dismissal.

You should include your policy within your employment contract. Ensure both parties sign the policy before employment starts.

Get expert advice on managing absenteeism from Peninsula

As an employer, dealing with employee absences is unavoidable. Most of the time, an employee will have a genuine reason for being off work. However, some employees choose to abuse this and don't show up for work without good reason.

So, you need to know how to successfully manage absences in your business. A high level of absent staff can lead to a dip in morale, quality of work, and a rise in dismissals.

Peninsula offers 24/7 HR advice which is available 365 days a year. Want to find out more? Contact us on 0818 923923 and book a free consultation with one of our HR consultants.


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