Absenteeism in The Workplace: Causes & How To Fix It - Oak Engage
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Absenteeism in The Workplace: Causes & How To Fix It

   Minute Read     Performance & Culture

Absenteeism in The Workplace: Causes & How To Fix It
Table of Contents

    We’ve all been there… we've all felt poorly and need time to rest and recuperate and feel like our normal selves again. We’ve all had important appointments we need to attend, be that for our health or other reasons. We’re all human and sometimes life can get in the way of work. This is normal from time to time , however, it starts to become an issue when this happens repeatedly and without solid reason. This is absenteeism. In this blog post we’ll be exploring:

    • What is absenteeism in the workplace?
    • What causes absenteeism?
    • The impact of excessive absenteeism
    • When is absenteeism excessive?
    • What can you do to fix it?

    What Is Absenteeism in the Workplace?

    Absenteeism in the workplace is when employees are consistently absent, it’s generally unplanned and without a good reason. If your employees are consistently absent, there could be a deeper meaning behind as to why. Although it sometimes can’t be helped, when absenteeism becomes excessive it begins to affect the rest of your employees and teams in a negative way. Let’s take a look at the different types of absenteeism: 

    Authorised & Planned

    These types of absences are fine. They’re planned absences that have been arranged and confirmed by managers. This can be anything from a summer holiday, a doctor's appointment, personal leave, parental leave and compassionate leave. When employees submit requests for time off, absences aren’t an issue as employees and teams can plan around employees’ absences. 

    Unplanned, Genuine Absences

    These types of absences are also fine, they can’t be helped. We can’t help becoming ill, having family problems or having accidents that require time off from work. Although mildly disruptive, unplanned absences should be accepted as part of life.  

    Unauthorised Absences

    These absences are…not so fine. Not going to work without an approved reason is classed as absenteeism. These are the absences that can be a problem for businesses as the workload is piled onto other people and puts strain on other team members. 

    What Causes Absenteeism?

    There is a whole range of things that can cause your workforce to be absent: unexpected emergencies, illnesses and unexpected commuting issues for example. Certain things are avoidable and can be sorted out with support from HR and the business.  Some are completely unavoidable. Let’s take a look at what can cause absenteeism: 

    Minor Illnesses 

    Unfortunately, we can’t control when we are sick and when we are, rest is the most important thing. In the UK employees, on average, take around 6.9 days of sick leave per year. Minor illnesses account for around 27.2% of total days lost to sickness. When staff do feel ill it’s important that management is informed so absences can be made easier. 

    Img Alt: Statistic shows minor illnesses account for 27% of total days lost to sickness 

    Mental Health 

    35.2% of UK workers are suffering from mental health issues, with 42.9% confirming that their job was the key contributor to these feelings. Additionally, 70% of people who do suffer from mental health issues said that their depression or anxiety can affect their work sometimes. 

    If employees feel burned out and stressed they’re less than likely to feel excited about work. It might be that coming to work might only add to the stress they’re feeling. 

    If any of your employees are struggling with their mental health it’s important to have a workplace that cares for employee wellbeing. Create places and environments where they feel supported and they can discuss how they feel if they feel comfortable doing so. 

    Img Alt: Statistic shows 35% of UK workers suffer from mental health issues 

    Major Illness and Long-Term Conditions

    Unexpected illnesses, chronic conditions and accidents that require operations may mean that employees are off work for a long time. For some businesses, it can be difficult for employers to manage this. Your employees are your main priority first and foremost, but this doesn’t take away the strain it can put on others and getting stuff done within your team. 

    Managing employees that have long term conditions or illnesses that mean they’re off work for a while will be handled differently by each company. Make sure you seek advice from your HR team on how best to handle the situation. 

    Workplace Bullying or Harassment 

    Workplace bullying creates an atmosphere of conflict and makes employees anxious and worried about coming to work. Employees will avoid work when they’re being harassed. Creating a culture where the door is open for employees to talk about their problems and report any incidents is vital to maintaining a happy workforce, sorting out any issues and avoiding employee absenteeism. 

    Family Issues 

    Family members falling ill, emergencies, snow days, injuries. Employees with children or elderly parents may have to miss work sometimes to take care of their families. 


    Coping with bereavement is one of the hardest things that employees can go through. People cope in different ways and people may be absent from work for a number of days, especially if the death was sudden or a really close family member. It’s important that employees have the right time to grieve and they may have legal issues to sort out. 

    Commuting Issues

    Img Alt: Rush hour commute to work 

    Delayed tubes. Cancelled trains. The bus hasn’t turned up. There are so many ways that travel can impact your journey into the office and might result in employees being late. Another pesky thing - is the weather. Storms, ice, and snow can all have an impact on your journey into the office and slow things down. 

    Studies even show that longer commute times can have a huge impact on employee retention and productivity. 

    Team and Management Issues 

    Disagreements between management and teams can sometimes leave people feeling a bit deflated. Negative interactions with people on your team or leadership and management can cause employees to become disengaged or avoid further conflicts in fear of stress. 

    It’s important to create a culture where healthy conflict can occur and disagreements in ideas and viewpoints can be discussed in a safe space without employees feeling negative and disengaged. 

    The Impact of Excessive Absenteeism

    The odd day off here and there can’t be helped but when absenteeism becomes excessive it can really slow down your business operations and start to have an impact on your teams… and not a positive one. Here are the number of ways that excessive absenteeism can affect your business: 

    Productivity Loss

    When employees are absent it can have a big impact on the productivity of your entire team. The rest of your employees will have to distribute the workload of absent employees on top of their own workload which can cause added stress and push back deadlines of work.

    Poor Quality of Work

    If other employees are being overloaded with extra work that needs to be done to set deadlines then this might impact the quality of work. They’ll be rushing and cramming to get jobs done and not putting in the amount of time and effort needed to produce good work. 

    Financial Loss

    Absenteeism will have a hugely negative impact on profits for businesses. The financial implications of illness costs the UK economy an estimated £77.5 billion a year. In the US, the total costs related to lost productivity due to absenteeism totaled $84 billion. That’s a whole lot of money lost. 

    Img Alt: Illness costs UK economy £75.5 billion per year and the US $84 billion 

    There are many costs associated with absenteeism - the wages of absent workers, replacement payment costs and admin costs of absenteeism as well as things like low quality of work and low team morale due to increased workloads. It can be incredibly challenging for employers to deal with. But there are many things you can do to tackle absenteeism which we’ll help with later.

    Negative Company Culture

    A negative culture where gossip is rife, people feel uncomfortable and a general lack of team spirit will have a big impact on absenteeism. 

    Signs of a negative company culture include things like:

    • Office gossip
    • Lack of respect and empathy
    • Unhealthy office competition 
    • No options for flexible working
    • Lack of strategy and leadership skills
    • Poor internal communications

    It’s important you put time and effort into getting your company culture right so your workforce looks forward to coming to work and being part of a valuable company. 

    Demotivated and Demoralised Employees

    Frequent absences can create a lot of tension in teams who have been covering the workload, they’ll start to feel stressed and burned out and managers might become stressed delegating workloads and managing ongoing absences. Motivation is critical to performance and so once demotivated and demoralised this can have a huge impact on the business and its operations. 


    When Is Absenteeism Excessive?

    Different companies have different policies toward absenteeism, some are more relaxed and some have strict procedures in place. There is no set rule as to exactly how many absences constitute excessive absenteeism. 

    Larger companies are more likely to see higher absence rates among their workforce than smaller businesses. It’s up to your company to define what counts as excessive absenteeism and communicate the rules on attendance at work. 

    Although it is up to you to decide when absenteeism becomes excessive, there is a way you can determine when absences become excessive and it’s known as the Bradford Factor. 

    This is a benchmarking tool for managers to track individual staff absences. The Bradford Factor follows the idea that frequent and unplanned absences are more disruptive than longer absences and so these absences are given a higher score. So someone who has three periods of absence of two days each will get a higher score than someone who has one period of six days off work. 

    Using a method like this can help you keep track of absences and notify any potential areas of concern that might count as excessive absenteeism and then take action. 

    What Can You Do to Fix It?

    By creating an engaged workforce you can help lower your rates of absenteeism. Gallup found that businesses with engaged employees have 41% lower rates of absenteeism

    Focus on engaging your employees and providing them with the information they need about absences, such as clarity on absence procedures and how they can get support from you as an employer. For now, here are some tips on how you can increase engagement in your workplace and support your employees: 

    Offer Workplace Flexibility & Remote Work Options 

    Giving your employees the flexibility to work from home or offering flexible hours is one of the best things a company can offer its employees. Research shows that flexible work arrangements allow employees to be more productive, thrive in their job role and lowers absenteeism levels

    Flexible work schedules mean employees are less likely to call in sick if working from the comfort of their homes. It also makes life easier when attending appointments, and picking up children from school. 

    You need to make sure you’re utilising the right technology to allow your employees to work from home just as well as they can from the office. Having a digital workspace that lets your employees communicate seamlessly, socialise with one another and access the latest company news is crucial. Striking a balance of hybrid working allows employees to have a better work life balance and has a huge impact on wellbeing, productivity and engagement. 

    Reduce Workplace Stress

    Stress is one of the biggest obstacles to employee engagement in our workforces today. The World Health Organisation have even declared stress a worldwide epidemic because the effects are that strong. As an employer you should try and do everything you can to reduce workplace stress and place an importance on workplace wellbeing. Here’s some ideas for you: 

    • Taking regular breaks
    • Wellness initiatives such as gym memberships and wellness subscriptions 
    • More paid time off 
    • Flexible schedules
    • Creating a comfortable office space
    • Invest in technology that works for your employees 
    • Provide work support 

    Provide Mental Health Support

    When people are stressed, ill or under pressure, they can’t perform to their full capacity. This goes for mental health as well as our physical health. As we mentioned before, some of the main causes of absenteeism are mental-health related. Sometimes employees struggling with mental health issues need extra support than just mindfulness activities and wellness initiatives. 

    Why not introduce a service like an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme)? These services are confidential and give employees advice on things that might be affecting their work performance. 

    “According to the CIPD, 1 in 4 people will be impacted by poor mental health at some point in their lives. This is a major cause of both short-term and long-term absence which is why it is vital for businesses to offer appropriate mental health support. Here at Oak, we offer self-referred talking therapy sessions through our private health insurance and a 24/7 support line which offers CBT sessions through our EAP. Offering this support allows our employees to take control of their mental health when they need it”
    - Bryony Solly, Oak’s People Co-Ordinator 

    Place an Importance on Communication 

    When people are stressed, ill or under pressure, they can’t perform to their full capacity. Time off work is sometimes the best way to get back on track and it’s important to be compassionate to your employees. 

    No matter the reason your employees are absent it is crucial you communicate with them. Employees who are absent may feel incredibly isolated and worried and a simple check-in from time to time can do the world a good. Make it known to your employees that you’re there to support them through this time and make them aware of any support or assistance that is available to them. 

    By supporting your employees you can ease them back into the process of returning to work when they feel ok and ready to do so. The functions of a social intranet such as instant chat, hubs and a homepage with company news and posts from employees will help your employees feel connected and calm. 

    Recognise and Reward Attendance

    Recognising and rewarding employees for showing up and appreciating all the work they’ve done does wonders for employee motivation and engagement. If you’re continuously recognising the hard work your employees do they’re going to feel proud, motivated and want to achieve more, they’ll keep bringing their best self to work. Some companies have reward programs for employees with good attendance with rewards such as:

    • Paid days off for employees who meet attendance requirements for a set period of time
    • Office games that allow employees to extra cash or time off for good attendance
    • Special gifts for employees who meet attendance requirements for a set period of time 

    Have an Absence Management Policy  

    Your business needs a clear absence management policy in place. This should set out how your business deals with short term, long term and habitual absences. You should make sure each staff member understands the policy and is stored somewhere they can easily access and refer to if needed. 

    Your workplace should have a system that allows you to monitor employees time off, this should be anything from a holiday, sickness and unauthorised absences. By having this type of system in place you’ll be able to easily analyse and note any patterns and help you understand the causes of absenteeism within your organisation. Oak Engage has its own inbuilt features which means you can see when staff members are off and record any unexplained absences. 

    To Conclude 

    Supporting your employees using those methods to reduce absenteeism and creating the best environment possible for your employees to bring their best selves to work is the key to reducing absenteeism. By utilising a tool such as Oak Intranet you can share important absence policies, have a record of employees time off and make communicating and supporting your employees throughout any bumps in the road, a whole lot easier. 


    Vic is one of Oaks Content Marketing Specialists. She specialises in communication and marketing and is also a host on the Comms In A Nutshell podcast for Internal Comms & HR professionals.