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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

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In this guide, we'll look at what absenteeism is, how it affects businesses and how to reduce absenteeism in the workplace.

All workplaces will have absent employees from time to time. An approved absence allows employers to plan ahead and avoid high levels of workplace absenteeism. But frequent absences and sick days can put a strain on your business and its resources.

Chronic absenteeism can lead to poor morale, a drop in productivity and employee burnout. This can result in poor business outcomes and high employee turnover.

In this guide, we'll look at what absenteeism is, how it affects businesses and how to reduce absenteeism in the workplace.

What is absenteeism?

Absenteeism refers to when an employee is frequently absent from work.

It's normal for employees to have a few unscheduled absences due to minor illnesses or family emergencies. But when an employee is regularly absent for unacceptable reasons or a high number of unauthorised absences, this can become a problem.

What are the different types of absences?

There are many different reasons why an employee might be absent from work. And it's important you're aware of all types so you can work out the legitimacy.

Let's explore the three different types of absences:

Planned absences

Planned or authorised absences are any pre-arranged or scheduled personal time off. This usually means that an employee has submitted a request and it's been agreed to by their employer.

There are many different types of planned absences that an employee may request during their career. These include:

There are some types of leave requests that an employer can choose to accept or refuse such as annual leave – provided the correct notice is given. However, you cannot refuse maternity and paternity leave.

Planned absences allow you to redistribute workloads across your team. This prevents your other staff from being overwhelmed which can result in employee burnout.

Unplanned absences

Sometimes employees will need to leave work unexpectedly for valid reasons. It could be childcare or other personal issues. While these are not pre-approved absences, they are often unavoidable meaning you will need to accommodate them.

While not ideal, the employee will likely only be missing work for a short amount of time. Meaning their co-workers won't have to deal with a heavier workload for very long.

Unauthorised absences

Unauthorised absences, otherwise known as unexcused absences, can be a problem when it comes to absenteeism in the workplace. They refer to any absence that is not approved by management or is considered disingenuous.

This type of absenteeism can have a serious impact on your business and other employees. And if they happen repeatedly over a prolonged period, you may need to take disciplinary action.

What are the causes of absenteeism at work?

There are several contributing factors as to why your workplace might have absent employees. It's important to establish the root cause of the problem by having a chat with a staff member about their absenteeism.

Legitimate reasons might include:

Physical illness

If an employee has poor health or a minor illness, they may take a sick day. These are the most common types of unauthorised absences.

Employers can't control when a staff member falls ill. Especially during certain times of year - such as flu season. And usually, it won't have too much impact on your level of absenteeism. This is as long as it's one-off unplanned absence and they aren’t frequently absent.

Commuting issues

Absenteeism in the workplace could also be the result of commuting problems.

For example, if an employee experiences car problems they may not be able to get to work. Or there may be transport strikes that mean they struggle to maintain punctuality.

Family emergencies

While you may encourage your employees to leave their personal problems at home, it's not always so easy. Sometimes difficult situations can cross over into their professional life. And might mean they need to take some personal time off.

Examples of these issues might include:

  • A divorce.
  • Childcare issues.
  • Death of a family member. Or parental bereavement leave.
  • Sudden illness of a dependent.

It’s up to the employer to decide whether to allow a staff member 'personal days' to deal with these issues. But often it's better to allow staff time to sort the problem. This could prevent them from needing more time off in the future.

Mental health issues

The mental health of your staff members can be another reason for absenteeism. Those with long-term mental health conditions might find it difficult to attend work.

Examples of mental health issues include:

For instance, a staff member with depression may struggle with exhaustion and find it difficult to travel to work. Consequently, they might be absent frequently.

Job dissatisfaction

Sometimes a business can experience excessive absenteeism because of employee dissatisfaction. If your team members aren't satisfied in their roles, they may dread attending the workplace.

This is especially apparent if staff are stressed about workload - or their relationships with other employees.

Workplace bullying or harassment

Workplace bullying or harassment can lead to excessive absenteeism. And can take several different forms. Employees may feel that they are being treated differently by colleagues or their manager. Or they may experience targeted harassment during their working day.

This sort of behaviour is unacceptable in any professional situation. And if an employer doesn't manage it correctly, absenteeism could rise dramatically.

The employee experience is a big part of absenteeism. So, employers should do their best to create a healthy working environment where all staff feel welcome.

What are the negative consequences of excessive absenteeism?

Whilst most absences can't be helped, chronic absenteeism can become a problem for your business. There are several consequences your company could experience because of a high absence rate.

These are:

Low morale

One consequence of chronic absenteeism is low morale. Team members who attend work regularly may grow tired of covering for employees who are absent.

This could result in resentment amongst the team or towards their employer. Some team members may believe other colleagues are receiving special treatment. Which could negatively affect employee engagement and company culture.

Lost productivity

A high absence rate can also affect productivity. Because employees are regularly missing work they won't have enough time to spend on their weekly duties.

Additionally, they'll miss the chance to collaborate with other employees. Which could affect team projects as a result.

Increased costs

Another consequence of chronic absenteeism is the higher costs your company could face. This might include administrative costs such as overtime pay and other benefits. As well as payment for a replacement worker if the absence continues long-term.

What is an absenteeism rate?

An absenteeism rate is a calculation of unexpected absent days in the workplace - which an employer measures over a specific time.

Any unexpected or unplanned absences the employer records, should be a result of sickness or other personal reasons. And should not include holidays or lateness.

You can measure your workplace's absence rate against individual employees, a team, or the business as a whole.

How to calculate an employee absenteeism rate?

To calculate an absentee rate, you should follow an absenteeism rate formula. To do so you need the following data:

  • The number of days an individual employee or group were absent in a total period.
  • The dates when employees were off.
  • The number of hours that equates to one workday. For example, in most cases, this is eight hours.
  • The total workdays available in each given period.

Once you have this data, you'll be able to calculate your absent rate using the correct formula.

Absenteeism rate formula

The formula to use when calculating the average employee absenteeism rate is: number of absent days divided by the number of workdays. To get an absence percentage, you should multiply this number by 100.

It's important to make sure you have calculated the number of work days properly. This means subtracting weekends, public holidays and employee leave entitlement from the total.

How to reduce absenteeism in the workplace

Now you're aware of your absenteeism rates, you should explore how to reduce them.

Ways of reducing absenteeism include:

Conduct return-to-work interviews

One way to reduce absenteeism in the workplace is to conduct return-to-work interviews. A return-to-work interview is a conversation between an absent staff member and their employer. It takes place after the staff member's absence.

The purpose of these interviews is to welcome the worker back, establish the reasons for their absence, and check they are fit to work. This can help ease the employee back into their role and provide a space for them to voice any issues related to their absence.

It also helps build a better relationship with your struggling employees, as it becomes easier for them to come to you with their concerns. Which you can address before it affects their productivity.

Offer flexible working

Another way to reduce your absenteeism rate is to let employees work flexibly. This practice has become common and can provide employees with a better work life balance. Which can be especially beneficial to parents, or those who have to care for sick family members.

Working remotely means employees spend less time getting ready for work and commuting, and more time at home with family. Ultimately, both options offer employees a greater sense of control over their lives. Not to mention the mental health benefits they might receive.

It may also reduce your absence rate as employees have the option to work from home. So if they are unable to travel, or need to provide care for a relative - they still can perform their workload in the comfort of their home.

Train managers on absenteeism

You could also reduce workplace absenteeism by training managers on relevant policies. This could include informing them of how to track absences on an absence management system. Or providing guidance on hiring temporary employees to fill vacant positions.

It might also involve training them to have difficult conversations with employees in a productive manner.

Having managers uphold your absence process will help you manage absenteeism when it happens. As well as helping you to understand the reasons why certain employees are excessively absent.

Get expert advice on absenteeism from Peninsula

There are many reasons why your employee might be off work. From jury duty to an employee feeling unwell, it's important to know how to manage it.

As an employer, you should understand the effects that absent employees can have on a business. Chronic absenteeism can result in reduced productivity, poor employee morale and even more absence.

It's important to understand how much absenteeism is in your business, and the reasons behind it. This can help you create policies that tackle the main issues.

Peninsula offers you expert 24/7 HR advice and support, to help you with absence management. As well as providing further advice on managing a chronically absent employee. Contact us today on 0800 0282 420.


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