How to Handle Employee Absenteeism: The Best HR Tips

Employee Absenteeism

In today’s ever-changing world, managing businesses can be likened to assembling thousands of puzzle pieces. Each piece represents an employee and their aspirations. If any of these pieces are missing, the entire puzzle picture remains incomplete. This analogy holds true for employee absenteeism in the workplace.

As a manager or HR practitioner, you are familiar with the sight of empty seats in the office. While it is expected for tenured employees to take vacation days, there are instances where some staff members may have unexcused absences. In certain circumstances, granting leave without prior notice may be acceptable.

However, when unexcused absences become frequent, it is a cause for concern. The situation becomes even more worrisome if the number of absent employees continues to rise. Consistently being understaffed can lead to burnout and dissatisfaction among those who consistently show up.

Understanding the impact of absenteeism in the workplace and absences from work is crucial for effective management.

Defining Employee Absenteeism

Before we introduce the best solutions to employee absenteeism, let’s discuss what it means first. It has to do with a worker failing to report for or remain at work, no matter what the reason may be. Usually, an employee’s absence is unplanned. It could happen because the person falls ill all of a sudden or because they willfully do not come to the office. Whatever the reason may be, what remains true is that the one involved was scheduled for work but didn’t show up. So, it means that absenteeism does not include personal leaves, vacation days, or even jury duty. 

The term ‘employee absenteeism’ is used interchangeably with sickness, absence, and skipping work. It is also measured using an absenteeism rate formula. Basically, HR staff members divide the number of absent days by the number of workdays within a specific period. This rate determines if employee absenteeism has become so excessive that it affects the organizational culture.

What Are the Effects of Employee Absenteeism in the Workplace?

Employee Absenteeism in the Workplace

Unscheduled absences, if left unmanaged, can severely impact an organization. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the U.S., employee absenteeism can cause productivity loss worth $225.8 billion every year. This means that every worker who does not show up to work without prior notice can cost their company $1.685 annually. 

The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions also estimated that in Europe, the cost of absenteeism could reach around 2.5% of the region’s GDP. This means that in the European Union alone, that amount could reach about $470 billion. Keep in mind that the cost of employees’ absences also includes the cost of replacing them. Of course, because of the transition, there’s also a loss of productivity that affects everyone picking up the slack, including their colleagues and supervisors.

What Are the Reasons Behind Employee Absenteeism?

Low Engagement from the Employees

Any work culture will thrive if employee engagement in the organization is high. This means that it is the HR department’s responsibility to follow practices that will bring people closer in the office. When staff members feel connected to their workplace, they are more likely to give their best. One of the reasons behind unscheduled absences is low employee engagement.

Leave Benefits

While employment benefits boost engagement in the workplace, sometimes, too many of them can also have negative effects. For instance, a 2009 report from Norway showed that on a typical day, there’s about 6-7% worker absence. While this data is considered dated, it hardly changes every year. Moreover, one of the contributing factors is that in this country, the entire loss in earnings due to absence is insured for the employee.

Meanwhile, Swedish reports from 1955 to 1999 revealed that the sick leave compensation could affect absenteeism. The reports added that because companies were generous with benefits for sick days, there was a permanent increase in total health-related leaves per employee per year. The results are similar in a large Italian bank. After a worker’s twelfth week of tenure, they are protected against firing. The study also revealed that once employment protection was granted, the number of absences per week more than doubled.

A Strict Work Schedule

A Strict Work Schedule

Because of the pandemic, flexible working conditions have become a necessity rather than a privilege for the select few. There’s lingering anxiety among employees, and keeping them within a strict work schedule will add to their stress. It’s not surprising why 58% of respondents of a 2018 Statista survey said that flexible working conditions had improved their satisfaction at work. Now, without the opportunity to balance work and life during these trying times, workers may choose to miss work. Because they still have personal commitments even when they’re working remotely, they have to skip work just to perform their responsibilities.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Another driving force for employee absenteeism is drug and alcohol abuse. According to the U.S. 2008-2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, employees who misused prescription drugs were 7% more likely to miss work in a month. Moreover, they had 0.25 additional days of unexcused absences compared to the average absenteeism levels across the country. 

Meanwhile, an Australian study revealed that employees who were high-risk drinkers were 22 times more likely to miss work. Compared to low-risk drinkers, they were more likely to have unscheduled absences due to illnesses, accidents, and injuries. Unfortunately, more than 40% of the workforce consumes alcohol at dangerous levels. It’s worth noting that absences related to alcohol heavily lean toward specific subpopulations of employees. So, to reduce absenteeism, HR should look into the demographics of their workforce and understand why they’re prone to risky alcohol consumption.

Employee Burnout

Another reason behind unscheduled absences is burnout. When employees are subjected to an overwhelming and unhealthy work environment, they get tired physically, mentally, and emotionally. Sadly, most of the time, HR overlooks the issue of workplace burnout. 

If you’re a good HR practitioner, you must understand how important it is for people to find time for personal rejuvenation. Unfortunately, employees are often overexposed to corporate stress, especially during this time where many are working remotely. With no time for themselves, their engagement levels in the workplace degrade. They may even choose to miss work without prior notice.


According to the CDC, over one in ten Americans have diabetes. With the constant rise of diabetes rates in the country, productivity in companies is also affected. The American Diabetes Association reported that the cost of productivity loss due to diabetes in the U.S. is estimated to be around $90 billion. The loss is associated with missing work due to illness and even retiring early.

Mental Health Problems

Mental Health Problems

High stress levels in the workplace eventually lead to mental health problems. Employees can only show their unbiased performance at work when they have sound mental health. Unfortunately, work-life balance becomes non-existent with the continuous workload rise across any industry. So, as a form of escape, staff members may resort to skipping work to give themselves time to refresh. In most cases, they miss work without prior notice.

Workplace Bullying and Harassment

According to a 2019 survey, almost 94% of 2081 respondents said they experienced bullying in the workplace. Meanwhile, The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that in 2018, sex-based harassment allegations grew to 13,055 from 12,695 in 2010. Such issues can be detrimental to the emotional state and mental health of an employee. So, just like with any other illness-related absences, bullying and harassment can make a person skip work.

What Can HR Do to Reduce Employee Absenteeism Rates?

Keeping absenteeism at bay can be challenging, especially when you’re managing a remote team. You need to lay out work ethics policies that will encourage professionalism among staff members. Moreover, you must take advantage of tools like employee absence management systems and time trackers. Here are some methods you can employ to reduce absenteeism in the workplace:

Conducting Surveys

When it comes to solving issues in the workplace, you need to hear from the employees. Before you even gather around and start brainstorming, you should conduct surveys first. By understanding how your employees feel and think about the workplace, you get insights into why they keep on missing work. Here are some factors to keep in mind when crafting your survey questions:

  • What daily commute means for your employees
  • Issues that team members may be facing in the workplace
  • Their domestic responsibilities and problems
  • Their opinion on their current work schedule and location
  • Any ongoing health issues 
  • Their level of job satisfaction

Now, if employee absenteeism affects a select few in the workplace, you can set up one-on-one meetings with them.

Considering Flexible Work Arrangements

Given the current global situation, adopting flexible work arrangements has become necessary for many companies. By allowing this, you help your employees fulfill their personal commitments while staying connected to their work. Indeed, this is helpful in ensuring a better work-life balance that will improve your team’s performance. As such, HR practitioners and managers must look into how they can provide flexible work arrangements for their employees.

Making HR and Management More Open to Grievances

In some cases, the reasons behind employee absenteeism can be unusual and serious. So, you should have a team solely dedicated to addressing such issues in the workplace. Bullying and harassment can become huge legal battles if they are not resolved early on. 

Your workers should know that HR and management address grievances seriously and promote transparency. This way, they will open up and share their problems. By boosting their confidence, you’re also discouraging them from being absent from work.

Organizing an Employee Engagement Program

Employee Engagement Program

When you have an employee engagement program in the company, you can keep your staff members hooked to the workplace. Programs like this can improve the quality of your work environment. After all, you’re bridging the gap between the employees and those in management. Aside from that, people will feel that they are part of something bigger. What’s more, they’ll be happy to experience certain benefits that only their workplace can give.

You can improvise employee engagement activities according to the needs and size of your workforce. Recognizing your workers’ efforts and talent is a great way to address the absenteeism issue in the workplace.

Setting Up Wellness Programs

As we’ve mentioned, health issues are among the biggest reasons behind employee absenteeism. With a lot of people working from home, the situation has become even more difficult for employees. So, it’s important to set up wellness programs that will help address mental, emotional, and physical health issues in the workforce. Moreover, you must design the programs to suit the regular work schedule of every employee. Thankfully, modern-day technology has made it easier for HR practitioners to execute corporate wellness programs. By making these programs more accessible to your employees, you’re encouraging them to stay fit and healthy.

Offering Rewards 

When you incentivize good attendance, your employees will be deterred from missing work. At the same time, you’re also boosting workplace morale. After all, you’re making people feel that their presence is highly appreciated. So, every month, reward employees with the best attendance, especially those who come to work on time. Doing so will keep your workers engaged.

Interviewing Those Who Return to Work

In the case of a prolonged illness, bereavement, or maternity reasons, an employee may need to take longer leaves. When they come back to work, you may notice a change in their behavior. Situations like this can also cause them to lose interest in their corporate duties. So, HR practitioners must conduct Return to Work interviews in this case. Doing so will help you evaluate whether the person is fit to resume work. Depending on what you learn, you can come up with measures that will help them get back on track. For prolonged absences, you can also arrange an orientation session to help the person return to their usual work mood.

Creating Effective Absenteeism Policies

 Effective Absenteeism Policies

As you can see, there are certain reasons behind employee absenteeism. One of the ways to prevent workers from missing work is by creating effective policies in the workplace. Here are some examples:

Frequent Handwashing

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the pandemic, it’s that handwashing should be done frequently and for at least 20 seconds each time. Encouraging employees to wash their hands significantly reduces infection rates during flu season. So, make sure to put up signs that tell people to wash their hands upon reaching the office, when coming from the restroom, and before eating food.

Regular Exercise

According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, people who do not exercise are 50% more likely to fall ill. Compared to those who exercise regularly, they can get sick for more than seven days in a given year. The same study reported that absenteeism decreased by 30% just by encouraging once-a-week exercise.

Health Screening

Conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and colorectal cancer can be detected early through timely health screenings. By having annual physical examinations, health problems can be discovered before they become dangerous for workers. 

Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Policies

We cannot neglect the fact that drug and alcohol abuse is one of the reasons behind employee absenteeism. So, your policies should include strategies that will prohibit the use of drugs and/or alcohol at work. These regulations are effective in discouraging high-risk drinking. However, you need to be more comprehensive about the impact of drug use.

Verify Absences

There should be a system wherein HR practitioners can verify absences. For instance, if an unscheduled leave is illness-related, the involved employee must be required to submit medical documentation. By implementing a verification system, you can deter workers from taking leaves without prior notice.

Pro Tip: Have an Easier Way to Track Absences

As an HR practitioner, you need to find ways to make absence tracking more efficient. In this case, we recommend using Traqq. This user-friendly app is easy to download and install. It will only take you a few minutes to set it up. All your employees have to do is click Start and it will start logging their attendance, including their work hours. 

Track Absences with Traqq

Once you get to the dashboard, you will easily see the number of days that an employee is present. This way, it will be easier for you to monitor absenteeism and tardiness. Aside from that, Traqq also functions as a productivity tracker. With its comprehensive reporting features, not only can you ensure that employees are present, but you can also guarantee that they are efficient.


Remember that your employees are humans too. They may need some time to rest, and they can also fall sick unexpectedly. It would not be ethical to expect them to be present at work at all times. However, by putting systems that will improve employee engagement in place, you can develop a healthy work environment. Transformational leaders do not resort to micromanagement. Instead, they support their workers’ aspirations. Addressing employee absenteeism may be a long process, but when done right, it benefits both the employees and the company.

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