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Absenteeism in the Workplace: 6 Strategies for Improving Absenteeism for Good

August 21, 2023

If you've noticed absenteeism rates slowly creeping up at your company, you're not alone. In 2022, American workers averaged nearly 1.6 million absences per month, equating to about 19 million missed days for the year - roughly triple from pre-pandemic absentee levels.

Unfortunately, absenteeism isn't an isolated problem either. Missing work is linked to lost productivity, burnout, decreased employee morale, trust issues, and more.

Although, while this issue may be daunting, there are things leaders can do to combat absenteeism in the workplace. From learning the causes of absenteeism to implementing strategies to prevent it in the first place.

Here, we'll explore common causes of workplace absenteeism and how to reduce employee absenteeism in the workplace.


What is Employee Absenteeism?

First, it's important to note that employee absenteeism is different than employees utilizing their PTO for vacations, holidays, or breaks.

Absenteeism in the workplace instead refers to excessive absences that are unplanned and/or unannounced. This may also include lateness, early departures, and/or extended breaks.

This also does not refer to the occasional employee absences due to medical or mental health issues, emergencies, or unforeseen circumstances.

Because there isn't a set number of unscheduled or unplanned absences that determines absenteeism, managers and leaders need to use their judgement to determine when absent employees is becoming an issue.


Common Causes of Absenteeism in the Workplace

As leaders, it can be difficult to pinpoint why an employee would chronically miss work. However, it's important to try to refrain from judgement and instead, try to understand what could be going on behind the scenes with an absent employee.

Oftentimes employees are dealing with difficult issues that trigger absenteeism, rather than employees simply not caring about their work. These issues may include:


Mental Health: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the leading cause of absenteeism in the United States is depression. Depression can make it difficult for individuals to get out of bed, stay motivated, and engage in work.


Childcare/Eldercare: A common cause of absenteeism is childcare. Kids get sick unexpectedly, babysitters fall through, snow days happen - it's an inevitability of life. But this means suddenly an employee needs to stay home to take care of their kids.


Bullying/Harassment: Unfortunately, bullying and workplace harassment can still occur today - especially for individuals in marginalized groups. This can lead to employees avoiding work, calling off last minute, or simply not showing up.


Burnout/Stress: Burnout has been on the rise ever since the pandemic, and unfortunately there are no signs of it slowing down. Heavy workloads, tight deadlines, and a lack of appreciation all contribute to employees not wanting to work.


Disengagement: Of course, there will be employees who are disengaged, not committed to their jobs, and who don't prioritize their responsibilities of work. These employee absences are due to simply not wanting to go.


The Impact of Absenteeism in The Workplace

Depending on how your company operates, the direct or immediate impacts of employee absenteeism will vary. However, there are common consequences of excessive absenteeism. They include:


Lost Productivity:

Frequent absenteeism leads to reduced productivity, as tasks may go unfinished and deadlines are missed. Other employees might also have to take on additional responsibilities, leading to an overall decline in work output.

In fact, research from Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that employees are thought to be about 30% less productive when covering for their absent coworkers.


Increased Workload:

When absent employees' tasks are redistributed among their colleagues, it can lead to increased workloads, stress, and potential burnout for the rest of the team who are still present.


Impact on Employee Morale:

The presence of absenteeism can negatively impact workplace morale. Employees who consistently pick up the slack for absent colleagues might feel overburdened, leading to resentment and decreased job satisfaction. Left unaddressed, this can even contribute to increased employee turnover.


Disruption in Team Dynamics:

Absenteeism can also disrupt team dynamics and collaboration. Frequent absences can make it difficult for teams to work cohesively, impacting overall team and company performance.


Financial Costs:

Absenteeism can lead to financial losses for businesses - both directly and indirectly. Direct costs include paying for sick leave or hiring temporary replacements. While indirect costs involve decreased productivity and potential delays in projects.

So much so, overtime pay is used to cover nearly 50% of employee absences, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).


How to Reduce Absenteeism

Reducing employee absenteeism in the workplace may take some trial and error to solve long-term. But luckily, there are many strategies you can put in place to start moving towards positive change.

Here are our 6 strategies for managing absenteeism.


Survey Your Team

Before implementing any action plans, it's important to ensure you have data to inform your decisions. So, first, survey your employees.

Send an anonymous survey asking your team what the most likely reason is that they'd miss work. Then see how you can mitigate the issue. For example, you may find that childcare is a significant issue for many of your employees. In which case, could you consider offering childcare services on-campus?

While you may not be able to eliminate every employee's reason for missing work, you might be able to solve many.


RELATED: What is an Employee Engagement Survey? And Why Should You Care?

Build a Culture of Recognition

Every company should practice employee recognition in one form or another. It's simple, accessible, and effective in boosting employee engagement when done right.

In fact, one study found that when organizations doubled the percentage of team members who felt recognized, those same businesses could expect to experience a 22% decrease in employee absenteeism. Furthermore, this was accompanied by a 9% lift in employee productivity as well.

Studies have found that employees are nearly 3 times more likely to be highly engaged when they believe they'll be recognized for their work. However, it's important to remember that while sporadically telling your employees thank you may not be a bad thing, it likely won't generate these results.

Instead, recognition needs to be done intentionally. This can mean:

There are countless ways to show your employees appreciation. The key is figuring out what resonates with your team and sticking with it.


Be Flexible

While some leaders still have a distaste for remote and hybrid work, it has undeniable perks - like improving employee absenteeism. This is because working from home removes several barriers that can prevent employees from coming to the office. Car trouble, needing to be home for a landlord or home repairs, a child is home sick from school or has a snow day - all can be managed simply by being able to work from home.

But remote work doesn't only affect employee attendance - it helps productivity too. A study from Microsoft found that 85% of leaders say that the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive.

So much so, 49% of managers of hybrid workers struggle to trust their employees to do their best work. And while it may be true that some people will struggle to do their best work in a remote or hybrid setting, research shows that's not the standard.

In fact, research suggest it's quite the opposite. Not only are remote workers on average 7% more productive, one study found they also tend to work an extra 48 minutes a day.

So, if you find your absenteeism is frequently due to issues like the ones above, ask yourself if needing to be in the office is critical to your company. You may find a more flexible arrangement benefits everyone.


Invest in DEI

Prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is not just a passing trend. Doing so helps marginalized groups feel a sense of belonging at work, while educating non-marginalized groups about the unique lived experiences of their teammates.

And when people feel like they belong at work, they're more likely to show up. So much so, a report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “Employee absenteeism due to anxiety, worry, stress, or frustration stemming from experiencing or witnessing unfair treatment based on race or ethnicity in the workplace may have cost U.S. businesses up to $54 billion in the past year.”

But DEI can do more than improve employee attendance. Research has also found:

  • Companies with executive teams with more gender diversity were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies with less gender diversity.
  • Companies with racial and ethnic diversity are 36% more likely to outperform their peers.
  • 78% of people feel that it’s important for them to work for an organization that prioritizes diversity and inclusion, with 58% saying it’s “very important.”
  • Companies with inclusive cultures have 22% lower turnover rates.

Furthermore, prioritizing DEI can help bring company values to life. If your organization has any kind of corporate value around community, belonging, inclusion, collaboration, etc. DEI efforts will likely be needed to truly uphold those values.

Get started by implementing DEI training, creating employee resource groups, and/or celebrating a wide variety of holidays and traditions at work.


RELATED: 5 DEI Best Practices: What You Need to Know About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in 2023



Prioritize Mental Health

As mentioned, depression is the leading cause of absenteeism in the workplace, and unfortunately, it's likely here to stay. A report by Blue Cross Blue Shield found that depression diagnoses are rising at a faster rate for millennials and teens than for any other generation.

And as millennials make up more than a third of the US workforce, this isn't an issue that will solve itself. In fact, depression is estimated to cost $44 billion a year in lost productivity in the U.S. alone. So, while it's not the role of employers to cure depression, it is their responsibility to support their employees' mental wellness.

Start by taking a look at your expectations. Do you expect employees to work late or through lunch to meet deadlines? Is there an expectation for employees to respond to calls or emails after hours? Do you discourage occasional chit chat between coworkers?

These types of unspoken (or spoken) expectations can breed a toxic culture that contributes to stress, anxiety, and depression. To combat this, lead by example.

Prioritize your own mental health by taking breaks, sending emails only during working hours, and talking to your team from time to time about non-work related things. Consider partnering with apps like Calm to help encourage mindfulness and determine if a corporate wellness program might be right for your company.


Communicate Regularly

Another way to help avoid excessive absenteeism is to build a culture of open communication through trust and respect. Understanding what issues, roadblocks, and complaints your employees have is the first step to rectifying them, helping to make work a place employees want to be.

So, encourage your employees to share feedback either openly in one-on-one meetings or round tables. Or send periodic pulse surveys to get a glimpse into the perspective of your employees. Many employees have great suggestions for improving culture, processes, and employee engagement but can sometimes feel unsure about sharing ideas openly.

Providing a safe space for employees to voice their thoughts can make employees feel heard. Just be sure to be prepared to take action when appropriate. Sending surveys without enacting any real change will likely result in survey fatigue among your team and can even hurt overall employee engagement.


Next Steps

Ready to reduce absenteeism at your company? Terryberry can help. We partner with organizations and help build a healthy, thriving work culture through effective employee engagement.

These solutions include:

Ready to learn more? Schedule a demo with our team to get a hands-on walkthrough of how Terryberry can transform the culture of your workplace.