Employee absenteeism – what it is, what causes it, and how to avoid it

Employee absenteeism


To an employer, the phrase “employee absenteeism” may strike fear into your bones. Employee absenteeism is something no company or boss wants to see or have to deal with. It seems like a potential minefield – lack of communication between employer and employee may make both parties feel like they are left in the dark. This article will deal with what employee absenteeism actually is, some potential causes of absenteeism (and how to deal with them), and how to better avoid employee absenteeism in your company.


What is employee absenteeism?

Absenteeism is when an employee repeatedly doesn’t turn up to work. We are not talking about irregular one-offs here, a one-off sick day or having to pick a sick child up from school. We are also not talking about scheduled annual leave or TOIL (more on that here). In saying that, each individual sick day an employee takes is calculated to cost an employer over £100 – this itself is an expensive, yet unavoidable, problem. Thus – surely regular absenteeism is an even bigger issue?

Absenteeism is when an employee does not turn up to work, often with no notice, on a regular or frequent basis. Such absenteeism impacts your company, you as the employer and may also impact your other team members if they subsequently have to take on extra responsibility if their colleague is not working.


Causes of absenteeism

Of course, there are a number of reasons an employee may not turn up to work. This section of the article will discuss a couple of the reasons as well as how, if possible, they can be avoided.

Firstly, we will discuss the most common cause of absenteeism – that being planned leave. Planned leave should not be a problem. In most cases, planned leave ensures that you, as the employer, can redistribute work that needs to be completed during an employee’s absence. Essentially, this type of absenteeism is unavoidable but manageable. LeaveMonitor offers a free trial of our booking service making booking leave easy for employer and employee – check it out!

Next, we will look at unplanned absence. Unplanned absence is essentially unavoidable emergencies or illnesses that stop an employee showing up at work. For example, if an employee wakes up with a terrible migraine or the flu, they may choose to take a day off work to recover. In most cases, an employee will try to make their employer aware of this. In addition, family emergencies or unplanned childcare may stop an employee coming to work. These are genuine absences. For more information on sickness policies, take a look at this article on sick days by my colleague, Raiyan. For information regarding sickness during the COVID-19 pandemic, take a look at this article by a legal firm regarding employer and employee rights.

Third and finally, we will look at unauthorised absence. This is the one that employers hope to avoid with all their heart! Unauthorised absence is inconvenient, frustrating and a loss-maker for a company. It can really affect the running of a business. This is a conscious choice to not attend work. Take a look at my article on employee turnover to see how an ineffective employee affects business.

Now – we will discuss how to mitigate lost time from unplanned absence followed by unauthorised absence.


Dealing with absenteeism

This will discuss how you can take steps to mitigate how much time employees take off from work.


Problem: Illness

Solution: Unfortunately, employers don’t own magic wands or magic pills to fix people’s ailments. However, if there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is to remain healthy by being conscious of other people’s illnesses and of general public hygiene. Send employees home who turn up to work with colds or the flu – just like you would with a COVID sufferer. In addition, make sure frequently touched surfaces like door handles and bannisters are sanitised regularly.


Problem: Poor mental health and stress

Solution: In recent years, we have become more aware of the impact of mental health on work, lifestyle and even physical health. As the renowned mental health charity Mind states, 1/6 workers have a mental health issue or get overly stressed at work. This is not good. Consider building an employee wellbeing programme – see my article on building one for some help. In doing so, you will be able to mitigate the risk of your employees becoming stressed and suffering with their mental health. In addition, for any employees who took time off due to mental health or after the death of a friend, family member or pet – consider creating a return to work plan. Read my article on that here.


Problem: Injury preventing employees from coming to work

Solution: A non-workplace related injury can happen at any point. It could be a recovery from a burst appendix, a broken bone or a car accident. Obviously, you would not expect an employee to leave the comfort and safety of their home to come to the office. However, working from home has become incredibly popular – consider offering this as an option to sick employees. This should lower the cost to your team and your company wallet.


Problem: Discomfort in the workplace

Solution: Ensure employees have proper office chairs (12 million days per year are taken off due to back pain alone), the correct equipment to do their job properly, their own personal space and the office is kept at a suitable environment to all. Offer comforts like air conditioning if possible, individual desk fans and/or heaters. For manual workers, ensure the correct safety equipment is issued and that staff have proper training and regular updates. Most of all – listen to your workers on how they feel their working experience can be improved.


In conclusion

An employer cannot fix everything – you will have staff taking time off. It may be planned, unplanned or a genuine emergency. To staff members who regularly take unplanned time off – reach out to them. Discuss what you can do. Be kind. You may find that they are not simply a “bad worker”, but actually need your help and support as an employer.