What is Absenteeism?

Definition: Absenteeism, sometimes called working off the clock, is a term that describes the behavior of an employee who fails to show up for work for various personal or business reasons.

It is characterized by an employee who generally does not intend to attend their assigned work schedule but instead fails to fulfill the obligations imposed on them by the employer.  

Absenteeism is marked by a disruption in the working relationship with pay and productivity as a sign that the employee has failed to abide by company rules.

 Absenteeism occurs when an employee has decreased devotion or interest in working for the company through neglect or inattention to work. 

There may be signs that you might have developed absenteeism patterns:

  • you’re showing up late for work
  • taking longer to return from vacations
  • not showing up in the office at all. 

How to manage absenteeism?

Managing absenteeism is not just important in terms of your company’s health, but it greatly impacts productivity as well. Beyond just absenteeism from work, other factors such as depression, stress, and isolation can impact employees physically and mentally. Employee welfare is not just important from a financial standpoint, but it improves employee well-being as well. Negative absenteeism harms staff morale and productivity.

Today, many companies are implementing some type of EAP system for their employees and maybe implementing different strategies to handle absenteeism. EAP is a necessary practice that should always be adhered to since it is an essential tool in helping the company maintain a productive work environment. There are many reasons why an employee may not report to work. They may be too ill, tired, or just simply not in the best of moods. EAP gives you the right to require your absent employee to report to work.

One effective method involves bringing the employee’s issues to the attention of management. Management can then take reasonable steps to address the problem or alleviate the employee’s workload if necessary. Other employees may attempt to convince the absent one to return to work or leave time to be used productively.

Absenteeism is no stranger to a business. The problem arises when the employee isn’t looking forward to their next scheduled day due to some personal issue. The key is to avoid this by implementing a flexible schedule. Getting your employee to see the value in other days and set goals for each can go a long way towards reducing absenteeism and improving communication. This type of flexibility isn’t just for the day an absent employee shows up. Keeping employees engaged and informed about upcoming opportunities, projects and deadlines can go a long way toward helping prevent the occurrence of workplace absenteeism.

Planned vs. unplanned absenteeism

Absence can be planned or unplanned. Planed absences permit a worker to return to their normal routine later if they so desire. Unplanned absences, however, are viewed as failures on the part of the worker and should not be tolerated. The reason given for this attitude varies depending upon the industry in which the worker works. In some companies, workers are disciplined for absenteeism; in others, however, employers view such absences as displays of irresponsibility on the part of the employee, which can damage a worker’s career prospects.

A planned absence from work may sometimes be necessary for a person with health issues or other personal reasons for being absent. For example, a dentist who has experienced an accident may need to take time off work to recover. An unwell business owner may need time off to recuperate or attend to urgent matters at home. In either case, the owner needs to plan to return to their normal role as soon as they are ready.

Unplanned absence can happen when you are called away unexpectedly for a company meeting, presentation, pre-arranged training, etc. Unplanned absences can be annoying and disruptive, particularly for the organization and its employees, but are necessary for some situations.

  1. Sickness: Sick leave is a policy under most organizations that allow employees to take emergency leave if their health issues prevent them from doing their normal job duties. 
  2. Injury: Injury absenteeism is a form of sick leave. An employer can limit how much time an employee can be off from work if they are injured.
  3. Bereavement: Bereavement leave is a special type of leave you can get from your employer. This type of leave allows your workers to take extended periods off for the bereavement of a family member. An employer may provide you with just one day of bereavement leave or up to a couple of weeks.

What is a good absenteeism rate?

A good absenteeism rate is defined as reporting for work on a given day even if you are ill or due to a personal issue that keeps you from reporting for work.

The prevalence rate of absentees in the United States is estimated at 2.65% (1.4% among workers younger than 40 years of age, 3.2% among those 40-59 years of age, and 5.7% among those 60 or older). For full-time workers without health insurance, the prevalence rate is estimated at 13.3%.

Absenteeism is a normal part of the business world. However, there are days when the employee is too sick to work. There are absences due to personal issues, such as caring for an ill family member or simply being unable to find the necessary time to do your job.

The best absenteeism rate is 1.5%, plus the number of sick days during the year. If your company has over 50 people, the absenteeism rate should be 2% plus the number of sick days you work during the year. It is important to note that this rule of thumb doesn’t work for every company.

It is important to look at absenteeism rates, not just the general number. The presence of a sick or absent employee does not imply that the company is bad, or that the employee is useless. The company can be doing something right; it may just not be communicating this effectively with employees. In most cases, when an employer is using absenteeism as a tactic to get something, it is not succeeding.

Even small improvements in absenteeism rates can have big impacts on a business; a study found that companies with high absenteeism rates had a 30% higher chance of being bought by their competitor within three years.

Absenteeism Benchmark

Absenteeism benchmarking is a well-established technique in customer experience research that has been adapted to the business domain. Industries that encounter routine problems are more likely to experience high levels of absenteeism. In industries where routine problems arise, such as health care or education, it is important to take active steps to improve employee health. This is equally true within the government sector, where problems with paperwork or other issues could easily lead to cuts in essential services.

The absenteeism benchmark is an important variable that can affect employee absenteeism. The more consistently employees reported missing work due to personal reasons, the lower the model would predict absenteeism.

In the model, high absenteeism was explained by high personal predictors of absence (e.g., alcohol abuse and depression) and low structural predictors of absence (e.g., worker health, scheduling conflicts). Model fit was excellent after accounting for all employee characteristics, including age, years of experience, industry, industry-specific characteristics, and job title.

Absenteeism rates vary by industry and location. For example, the rate of absence in manufacturing is more than ten times that for government/military and nearly twenty times that for the public sector. As a result, many businesses have developed specific absenteeism programs to motivate their workers to report for work when absent due to personal problems or other reasons.

Absenteeism Benchmark (ABB) is a global initiative that aims to improve the way organizations measure, study, and control absenteeism in their workplaces. The project aims to help organizations create more effective work policies, comply with human rights legislation, and ensure that their employees are treated equitably in the workplace. In addition to providing tools and online tools to support this effort, ABB also offers advisory services to help organizations better manage their absenteeism data.

Absenteeism Policies

Absenteeism policies are in place to minimize the risk of absenteeism in the workplace. Absenteeism policies vary by the employer and by industry.

Below are the Absenteeism Policies

  1. Washing hands significantly reduces absence during the influenza season – After using the restroom, for example, washing your hands can prevent the spread of illness from person to person if someone had contact with an infected person earlier in the day. Students are reminded of the importance of washing their hands frequently during school activities or going to the bathroom in many schools. Bottom line: We should adhere to absenteeism policies to prevent spreading highly contagious germs between students and staff members during flu season.
  1. Exercise frequency – Workers who are occasional exercisers are more productive than those who aren’t, but the motives for not working are not always clear. Exercising for health and leisure can be good for one’s mental health. Exercising for work can increase productivity and help one meet deadlines. Indeed, there is some evidence that regular exercise can increase productivity among low-income workers, especially those without access to health insurance. This seems counter-intuitive as health works through improving fitness but also through improving glucose metabolism, reducing stress.
  1. Workplace health promotion (WPH) – Employee wellness programs are another tool WHP uses to make its employees healthier. These are classes, lectures, or workshops that employees attend to promote a healthier lifestyle. These could be conducted at the workplace itself or at a nearby location (e.g., a party that’s open to the public). Much like absenteeism policies, employee wellness programs are most effective when implemented among workers who share the same conditions. With WHP, you can be treated as an in-patient for the period you are absent, and your insurance will cover the costs associated with care while you are out. While absent, your employer does not have to pay for any care you require while in the hospital, rehabilitative treatment, or palliative care unit.
  1. Employee Assistance Program – Absenteeism policies vary from workplace to workplace. In general, an EAP program is designed to help employees absent due to personal reasons, such as maternity leave, injury, or mental health issues. The policy may also be modified to make it more effective at reducing future absences, such as when an employee returns to work following a family emergency, moving to a new city or institutionalization, etc.
  1. Health Screening – Instead of letting employees go unpaid for time off due to illness or injury, companies with absenteeism policies give employees time off instead of paying them for that time. Absence without fault is not a cover for poor work performance; however, poor health can excuse many absences.  Therefore, a timely health screening should be done for the employees to rule out any health issues. The policy must accurately describe the nature and extent of the problem, the employee’s role in it, and the length of time expected to be absent without fault. 
  1. Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) management – Absenteeism policies are designed to prevent employees from working while impaired by alcohol or other drugs. Absenteeism policies have gained more attention as an anti-drinking strategy within the last decade. Research shows that, on average, employees who are absent for a week will drink more alcohol than absent employees who are not subject to such policies. This is consistent with other findings that show employees who feel emotionally isolated are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, including drug use and drinking in public. Absenteeism policies are designed to inhibit employee use of alcohol and illegal drugs while on duty. Depending on the AOD policy and state laws, an employer may have the option of extending the absence due to substance abuse to 15 days or more.
  1. Drug testing – Absenteeism management is not new, but recent studies reveal that it can significantly positively affect health. Studies show that drug abuse may negatively affect a worker’s motivation and ability to work. Employees who are given incentives to report drug use are more likely to do so. This is a problem because drug abuse often leads to physical and mental health problems. In addition to financial incentives, other non-financial approaches can be effective at protecting workers from drug abuse.
  1. Depression – In some cases, an absence may be caused by mental illness. Due to this, advanced care for chronic diseases must be enhanced to ensure more survival chances for the patient. Problems associated with depression may include feeling isolated, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, headaches, poor nutrition, and energy loss.
  1. Creating commitment – Absenteeism policies help create a culture of health and productivity in an organization by encouraging and recognizing the sacrifice of those absent due to personal or professional matters. The purpose of these policies is to reduce absenteeism while urging all parties involved in the organization’s work to remain productive.
  1. Rescheduling responsibilities – Allowing employees to reschedule their shifts as per their convenience is a way to decrease absence. The employees can mutually agree and shuffle their shifts. This will reduce social pressure.
  1. Absence verification/ culture – Absence culture encourages employees to report illnesses to their managers even if they feel ill. It encourages sick leave policies to be flexible to account for unexpected absences. By implementing this kind of absence verification into your organization’s absenteeism policies, you can reduce the number of absences that occur each year without increasing employee costs.
  1. Flexibility and autonomy – Flexibility refers to the people who can make plans and act upon them if events outside their control threaten their work productivity or schedule. Autonomy is the ability to carry out tasks without immediate supervision or direction from someone higher up the food chain. Studies have shown that high levels of flexibility correlate with greater job satisfaction, productivity, and employment stability.
  1. Absence insurance – Absence insurance can reduce the costs of lost time from illness or accidents when an employee is absent due to personal reasons. In some cases, it may be possible to claim the full salary and expenses for the time missed even if the employee was absent due to a work-related issue.

What are the causes of absenteeism?

  • Bullying and harassment:  If you are being bullied or harassed by someone at work, you should contact a lawyer as quickly as possible. It may be a good idea to get a lawyer on retainer so that you can deal with the situation if you lose your temper with your supervisor or co-worker.
  • Stress: Heavy workloads, stressful meetings and presentations, and feelings of being unappreciated can cause employees to avoid going to work. Personal stress from outside the workplace can also lead to absenteeism.
  • Caretaker: It may be caused by long absences from work due to caring for family or obligations such as nursing a sick relative (known as a carer’s absence).
  • Mental Illness: Mental illness is a major factor in workplace absenteeism. It can put a strain on your personal life as much as it does on the workplace.
  • Lack of appreciation: If employees don’t feel appreciated by their superiors, this can lead to resentment and disappointment. It could also lead to a breakdown in communication within the organization if employees cannot understand why they are not being treated as favorably as they expected. For this reason, leaders and supervisors need to identify and address absenteeism as quickly as possible to prevent resentment while minimizing the possibility of workplace conflict.
  • Illness: One of the most common causes of absenteeism is an illness. Many people can’t go to work because they have a cold or the flu, and they can’t relate to their bosses or co-workers easily since they feel sick. Some even miss work altogether during these times!

What can employers do to control Absenteeism?

Absenteeism is easily one of the most prevalent absenteeism problems faced by employers. Though many times it results from mistakes or miscommunication, a good majority of absenteeism can be avoided with careful monitoring and preparation. Absence without leave has become a problematic situation in many workplaces due to the lack of clarity over what the rules are and how far employers can penalize it. Efforts have been made to curb this problem in recent years, but both employer and employee still exist and need to be addressed.

To avoid it you should offer your workers some incentive for going to work. A lot of companies offer vacation or sick leave. In some cases, employees may be eligible for workers’ compensation if they’re disabled due to an accident or illness at work. You can also reduce absenteeism by having your employees work remotely from home for a certain amount of time each year. Organizations that provide these incentives have shown significantly less absenteeism and greater productivity over the short term, as well as greater health and happiness in the long run

Reducing absenteeism not only helps your company’s bottom line by lowering absenteeism-related costs but also helps you build stronger relationships with your employees.

Costs of Lost Productivity

The costs of lost productivity due to absenteeism may vary significantly from one company to another and from one state to another. Still, the overall impact on an industry is fairly widespread. Furthermore, the costs are not always predictable or easily measured. Consequently, the cost of lost productivity can be difficult to recognize and understand.

The annual cost of lost productivity due to absenteeism in the workplace is more than double the national median income and more than triple the cost of paid leave. This cost comes from unprepared employees losing their jobs because they’re unable to continue working while ill, from employers not giving them notice when they need to take time off to recover from illness or injury, and from employees delaying reporting damage to their careers because of stress related to caring for family members while ill or needing treatment at a new job.

Depending on the extent to which you can return to work during the period you are absent, these costs can vary. Some costs are directly related to your ability to function as a productive member of the workforce; these are typically known as direct costs and include things like lost wages (because you can’t get paid for extra hours worked), medical bills paid by your employer (because you need medical treatment after hours), and lost productivity due to absenteeism from missing work because of an emergency.

The costs of lost productivity are felt most keenly by those directly affected by absenteeism–workers who have spent weeks or months away from their jobs due to illness or injury, for example. Other costs may include reduced quality of goods and services, poorer working conditions, hazardous situations at work (including exposure to dangerous substances), poor community relations, and social isolation.


Absenteeism is a widespread issue in the workplace. It’s not only perceived as a clunky missed meeting or sick day penalty but also seems to be considered unpatriotic for not showing up for work. Absenteeism is an issue that can affect an employee’s pay, productivity, and reputation. But few people understand the issues facing absentee workers—and even fewer can handle them effectively.