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Updated Feb 22, 2024

10 Ways to Stop Absenteeism in the Workplace

Employee absenteeism is costly, and it can hurt company morale and productivity. Learn the underlying causes and how to prevent it.

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Skye Schooley, Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
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Your employees influence the success of your business, which is why it’s vital to have reliable, engaged workers who show up when they are scheduled. However, many organizations find themselves in the undesirable position of having one or more team members frequently show up late or not at all.

Employee absenteeism might seem harmless at first, but it can cause significant problems for your company. If left unmanaged, excessive absenteeism can reduce productivity, efficiency and morale. It can also increase burnout, employee turnover and staffing costs. Learn the primary causes of absenteeism and how you can prevent it.

Editor’s note: Looking for the right time and attendance system for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

What is employee absenteeism?

Absenteeism, sometimes called chronic absenteeism, is when an employee is frequently absent from work, with or without good cause. Although it is perfectly acceptable (and necessary) for an employee to take occasional time off when they are sick or need a vacation, employers generally expect their staff to be present during their scheduled shifts. If an employee frequently shows up late, leaves early or misses shifts, it is time to investigate why it’s happening and determine a solution.

Did You Know?Did you know
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average absence rate of full-time wage and salaried workers is roughly three absences per year, but this varies by occupation and industry and does not include vacation or personal time.

How do employers stop absenteeism?

Employee absenteeism can hurt your organization, so it is essential to resolve it as soon as it occurs — or to prevent it from happening in the first place. When you speak with staffers about their chronic tardiness or absence, approach the conversation in a way that encourages them to be open and honest.

“If you notice an employee is consistently out of office, talk with them to understand the root cause,” Anna Dearmon Kornick, a professional time management coach and speaker at ADK Strategies, told business.com. “If the employee is otherwise engaged and performing well, be prepared to problem-solve and offer solutions.”

Here are some ways to stop absenteeism:

1. Create a safe and healthy workplace.

To prevent avoidable injuries and illnesses and to maintain legal compliance with OSHA regulations and other labor and employment laws, create a safe and healthy work environment for your staff. You can conduct regular employee training to promote healthy work practices.

2. Define policies and expectations.

Establish clear policies and expectations regarding employee attendance and absenteeism. Define what is and isn’t acceptable and the consequences for workers who don’t comply. These formal policies should be included in your employee handbook and clearly communicated to your team. Enforce your policies fairly across the organization.

As with most things in business, your attendance policy may need to change over time. Adam Weber, chief evangelist at performance management company 15Five, recommended conducting a yearly policy audit to ensure your guidelines are up to date.

“Your policies are a reflection of your values; however, too often companies are reactive to their policies and only adjust after an issue arises,” he said.

TipBottom line
Review and update your employee handbook at least once a year, even if there are only minor changes.

3. Provide employee health and wellness benefits.

Employee health and wellness benefits can reduce absences due to illness and injuries. You can provide common benefits, such as fitness club memberships, health screenings, health risk assessments, nutrition education, weight loss programs, employee assistance programs (EAPs), and health and wellness incentives.

When you’re creating an employee health and wellness package, include benefits that support mental health as well.

4. Offer ample time off, and encourage employees to use it.

Putting in overtime and working as many hours as possible used to be a badge of honor. Now, employers and employees realize the importance of establishing a good work-life balance, and that includes taking time away from work to recharge. Create a reasonable time and attendance policy that includes ample paid time off. Additionally, you should create a company culture that encourages team members to use their time-off benefits. [Read related article: What is a Reasonable PTO policy?]

“It might sound counterproductive, but enabling and encouraging employees to take planned time away from work creates trust, goodwill and a better mindset for employees to give their best,” said Susan Anderson, chief services officer at Mineral, an HR firm. “Lower burnout translates into far less unplanned time away, which enables employers to better plan and operate their daily work.”

TipBottom line
To ensure that employees are using their well-deserved time off, use one of several highly rated time and attendance systems that can help you accurately track hours worked and vacation time.

5. Be flexible.

Flexibility is key, especially in recent years, when many employees have come to need it. Back in 2020, the world quickly learned that flexible benefits (like flextime, remote work and hybrid working arrangements) are helpful to many workers. While some simply prefer a high level of flexibility regardless of outside circumstances, letting your employees work when and where are most convenient for them can also be a viable solution to absenteeism.

“Look at what others in a similar industry are doing, and be on the leading edge of flexibility,” Weber said. “When employees have agency and choice on their schedules, they are more likely to honor them.”

6. Set reasonable goals and workloads.

Your organization can reduce absenteeism by making sure staff workloads are reasonable. Overworking employees can cause burnout and frustration, which can lead to absenteeism. When establishing fair workloads, Anderson said, make sure goals and metrics are achievable, fair and adequately resourced. 

“Other considerations are delegation of work and proper scheduling to meet [the] customer and productivity needs of the company,” Anderson added.

7. Prioritize employee engagement.

Employers that prioritize employee engagement see how it benefits not only their team members but also their organization as a whole.

“Cultivating strong employee engagement can result in higher productivity, performance and attendance because team members feel ownership over their work and their role in furthering the company’s mission,” Kornick said. “A highly engaged employee is at a lower risk for developing burnout.”

Did You Know?Did you know
You can use several strategies to improve employee engagement, such as following onboarding best practices, conducting engagement surveys and making employees feel appreciated by recognizing their achievements.

8. Emphasize clear communication, trust and transparency.

Company culture can be a driving factor behind employee absenteeism. Businesses should strive to create a culture that encourages clear communication, trust and transparency among employees and managers. Associates should trust that they can tell their supervisor why they might need to take additional time off or switch to a flexible work arrangement without fear of consequences. This allows employees to be honest with their managers about their struggles, and it can reduce the potential for unanticipated absences.

9. Train your managers.

Clear communication and trust begin with the right management team. Hire managers who exemplify the type of company culture you’re trying to create, and train them on how to effectively manage their team. When supervisors create an environment with high psychological safety, their direct reports are more inclined to communicate why they are unable to work.

10. Survey your employees.

If you’re experiencing high employee absenteeism and are not sure why, ask your staff. Weber said an anonymous feedback survey can give you insight into the true cause of absenteeism. When you survey employees, assure them that the survey is anonymous and they will not be penalized for their responses. After you receive the responses, discuss the results with your team and identify key areas for improvement.

“When absenteeism is happening, it is critical that you talk about it,” Weber said. “Talk about the proper way to take time off and highlight people doing it the right way. It’s also important that you solve the issues that are causing it.”

What causes absenteeism in the workplace?

There are many reasons for employee absenteeism, and sometimes there may be more than one problem causing an individual to miss work. Although every situation is unique, here are some of the most common causes of absenteeism.

Illness 

Illnesses and medical appointments are commonly reported causes of employee absenteeism. Although it is typical for staffers to miss work because of their own physical or mental health reasons, it’s increasingly common for associates to skip work so they can take care of sick family members.

Child or elder care 

On that note, employees may need to stay home from work to watch their child or an older relative. This may be due to medical reasons or simply because at-home care is too expensive or inaccessible.

Injuries 

Employees who hurt themselves on or off the job may have excessive absences. It may seem obvious for a team member to stay home from work when they get an acute injury — particularly, one that is severe and has a sudden onset, like broken bones and muscle sprains. However, employers should also keep an eye out for potential chronic injuries that develop slowly from overuse. Poor or unsafe working conditions can cause otherwise avoidable worker injuries.

FYIDid you know
If an employee cannot perform their job because of a physical or medical condition, with or without reasonable accommodation, they may be eligible for disability leave or workers' compensation.

Workplace toxicity 

Absenteeism can also be the result of a toxic work environment, workplace bullying, harassment or poor management. Employees who don’t feel safe or comfortable going to work tend to stay home more often. [Read related article: Do You Have a Toxic Employee Wreaking Havoc in Your Business?]

Employee burnout 

Employee burnout has worsened in recent years, and it can lead to increased absenteeism. If a staff member is feeling overworked, they may choose to stay home for a little R&R. 

Staff disengagement 

Employee engagement is one of the top factors contributing to an organization’s success. Low engagement tends to decrease productivity and company morale and increase employee turnover and absenteeism.

 Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

author image
Skye Schooley, Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
Skye Schooley is a dedicated business professional who is especially passionate about human resources and digital marketing. For more than a decade, she has helped clients navigate the employee recruitment and customer acquisition processes, ensuring small business owners have the knowledge they need to succeed and grow their companies. In recent years, Schooley has enjoyed evaluating and comparing HR software and other human resources solutions to help businesses find the tools and services that best suit their needs. With a degree in business communications, she excels at simplifying complicated subjects and interviewing business vendors and entrepreneurs to gain new insights. Her guidance spans various formats, including newsletters, long-form videos and YouTube Shorts, reflecting her commitment to providing valuable expertise in accessible ways.
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