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How to Effectively Reduce Absenteeism In The Workplace

Published July 31, 2022 (last updated on May 15, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Copywriter and Content Creator


Absenteeism is when employees take off work due to sickness, holiday, or other reasons. At first glance, it may not seem like a big deal. It is completely normal to have emergencies or illness or personal issues. Businesses are prepared to deal with such last-minute no shows or absences. However, the recent pandemic has put a strain on employees and their health. Of the 2.8 million employed people in the March 2022 quarter, 44,200 were away from work for a full week because of sickness, illness, or injury (1.6 percent of employed people), an increase of 17,700 people compared with the March 2021 quarter.

These numbers do not include businesses impacted by frequent lack of attendance at work without a valid cause or no shows. Employee/Staff absenteeism is on the rise, with workers calling in sick or not showing up for shifts. Staff absenteeism has impacted all industries from airlines to agriculture to hospitality.

Excessive absenteeism is a repeat pattern of unplanned absences. It is when an employee forms a habit of regularly staying away from work, generally without good reason.  It also includes sick leave, coming in late, leaving early and taking extended and/or unscheduled breaks.

Why Is Absenteeism Bad For The Business?

Absenteeism is costly for a business. If unplanned absences are frequent and form a pattern they can start to impact upon the employee’s work, which is not being completed due to their absence. This affects fellow workers negatively as their workloads increase to compensate, and their morale drops accordingly. They become disengaged or stressed and start to take time off work.  The upshot is increased absenteeism as well as decreased productivity across your business as a whole. In addition, there are financial costs to the business, for example in lost work, administration costs with managing the absence and in employee replacement costs if an absence is long-term.

While some companies can make do with an absent employee, smaller businesses cannot. In certain industries such as hospitality or security, the effects of absenteeism can mean delays, slower customer service, and the risk of increased accidents.

There is a visible impact of absenteeism on businesses:

  • Restaurants run at reduced hours of service

  • Hotels shut down rooms or event areas

  • Hairdressers operate at reduced hours or days

  • Farmers are forced to reduce their operations or work longer hours, thus raising the risk of accidents or injuries

Businesses are doing their best to maintain normal business operations but are being held back by absenteeism and workforce shortages.

What Causes Employee Absenteeism?

Everyone is sick from time to time, and some absences are unavoidable, for example in case of an emergency. However habitual absences result in productivity loss due to both absenteeism (other than scheduled leave) and presenteeism. This is where the employee comes into work but is unproductive, for example when they are sick but don’t take the day off work.

The main causes of absenteeism and presenteeism in terms illness or injury are related to an employee’s psychological health and wellbeing, and are due to stress or depression, and lack of engagement.  

Disengagement can be due to poor workplace culture with excessive conflict; a perception of an unfair workplace; or low morale due to lack of positive feedback, excessive demands and work pressure, and insufficient support and job control. These factors can also lead to burn-out.

Another reason for absenteeism may be carer’s responsibilities and a lack of flexibility within the business to accommodate these responsibilities as well as a general lack of employee work-life balance.

Absenteeism may also be a symptom of workplace bullying and harassment.

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Tips To Reduce Absenteeism In The Workplace

How an employer responds to an absence can influence the employee’s ongoing engagement with work, reduce the length of time away from the workplace, and minimise future absences, as well as reducing the impact on the employee’s fellow workers and therefore reducing absenteeism and increasing productivity across the business. Below are some steps you can take to manage absenteeism.

Create A Workplace Lateness And Absenteeism Policy

Workplace attendance can seem simple and straightforward. But employers and managers must keep track of multiple employees and shifts depending on their business. You must track and document employee attendance. What is the policy if they are running late? Can they show up for a half day? Who should they contact in an emergency? Whether you have ten or hundred employees, having an attendance policy can make expectations clear to all your team members. Consider scheduled absences, unscheduled absences, emergencies, and sick leave in this attendance policy. It should also include a timeframe and procedures for notification of absences and clarify when you expect reasonable evidence of an absence to be provided, for example in the form of a Medical Certificate.

Keep Track Of Absences

Make sure you have suitable timekeeping system in place to track any absences – keeping accurate time and leave records is necessary under both Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Holidays Act 2003. Ask employees to complete a time sheet, either manually or online, or invest in a (mobile) software system or application that allows clocking in and out.

Enforce The Workplace Policy

In case of any absence or no show contact the employee immediately to ask for an explanation, and ask them to give you an indication of when they think they will be likely to return to work, so you can plan accordingly. Remind them of your workplace policy and procedures and to provide reasonable evidence of their absence on return to work, if appropriate. Be consistent and make sure you enforce the policy across all of the business with every employee, with every absence.

Talk To The Employee

If you detect a pattern of excessive absenteeism your first step is to talk to the employee. This will help pinpoint the cause of the repeated absences. You can then adopt an appropriate strategy for managing absenteeism and resolve this informally. Ask the employee if there is anything wrong or if they require support and if so, ask how the business can provide it.

Treat The Cause

If the employee is struggling with childcare commitments, then discuss flexible working arrangements. If the employee claims they are being bullied, then encourage them to provide more details or lodge a complaint so the business can investigate the matter thoroughly. Are they suffering from stress or struggling with their mental health? Offer to support them and refer them to an Employee Assistance Programme or mental health helplines. Continue to meet with them regularly to monitor their situation and offer ongoing support.

Consider Disciplinary Action

If there is no obvious reason for the continued absences then disciplinary action may be appropriate, however this is a formal process that must be conducted properly. Depending on the circumstances, you can discipline the employee for consistently wilfully breaching the lateness and absenteeism policy, so for example if they refuse to follow the notification of absence procedure and text instead of calling every time they are late, or refuse to provide reasonable proof of their absence in the form of a medical certificate.

Embrace Cultural Change

If the employees are disengaged or suffering from low morale because they are feeling overwhelmed, then discuss more reasonable workloads and organise help where required for example by engaging casual, fixed term or contract staff to assist in busy periods or to manage a specific project. Empower employees by allowing them to manage their own workload flexibly; focus on developing their skills and provide continuous constructive feedback and actionable guidance. Recognise employees’ achievements and success to foster engagement and boost morale.

Take Preventative Measures

Encourage your employees to take time off when they are sick, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  If they don’t take their sick leave, they may infect fellow workers, creating even more absenteeism. If employees come in anyway, they are likely to unproductive.

Employees should also take annual leave at regular intervals so they can rest and avoid burn-out.

It you adopt a pro-active approach to employee absences it can reduce absenteeism and presenteeism in the longer term, while boosting staff morale and increasing engagement and productivity, and reducing costs across the business.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why Is Attendance Important In The Workplace?

Poor attendance may impact on business productivity and costs the business money. It may also lead to low workplace morale and even more absenteeism if other employees are overworked to compensate for their colleagues’ absences.

What Is Absenteeism In The Workplace?

Common causes are illness and injury; stress due to heavy workloads; and employee disengagement due to a poor workplace culture. Other reasons are carer’s commitments, lack of flexibility in the workplace, and bullying.

How To Address Absenteeism In The Workplace?

Record employees’ time at work, and make sure you have a clear lateness and absenteeism policy that you enforce with every absence. Talk to employees to clarify the cause of their absence and put an appropriate strategy in place to address habitual absences

Can You Fire Someone For Excessive Absenteeism?

It will depend on why they are constantly absent. In all instances, a fair and proper process should be followed. Please call Employsure for free initial advice if you are considering dismissing an employee.

How Do You Deal With Absenteeism At Work?

You should talk to the employee and discover the cause of their repeated absences then put an appropriate strategy in place to address them. You should have a workplace policy that addresses absenteeism that every employee is familiar with. You should enforce the policy consistently across the business for every absence.

What Is An Acceptable Level Of Absenteeism?

It depends on the circumstances. From 24 July 2021 Employees are generally entitled to ten days of sick leave a year, and untaken sick leave rolls over from year to year up to a maximum of 20 days.

What Is Excessive Absenteeism In The Workplace?

Any unreasonable amount of unplanned absences that form a regular pattern. It will depend on the circumstances and the nature of your business, and whether the employee is injured or chronically ill.

What Is A Good Attendance Policy?

One that clearly sets out what to do if you are sick or late. It should include whom to contact, how to contact them and when, and under what circumstances you need to provide reasonable evidence (for example a medical certificate) of your absence. Employsure can assist in drafting a policy appropriate to your business. You can also consider a policy that rewards employees for good attendance.

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