Your employees help determine the success of your business, which is why it is important to have reliable, engaged workers who show up when they are scheduled. However, many organizations find themselves in the undesirable position of having one or more employees frequently show up late or not at all. Employee absenteeism might seem harmless at first, but it can cause significant problems for your company. If left unmanaged, excessive absenteeism can reduce productivity, efficiency and company morale. It can also increase burnout, employee turnover and staffing costs. Learn what the primary causes of absenteeism are and how you can stop it from happening.
Editor's note: Looking for the right time and attendance system for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.
What is employee absenteeism?
Absenteeism – sometimes referred to as "chronic absenteeism" – is when an employee is frequently absent from work, with or without good cause. While it is perfectly acceptable (and necessary) for an employee to take occasional time off when they are sick or need a vacation, employers generally expect their staff to be present during their scheduled shifts. If an employee starts to frequently show up late, leave early or miss shifts, it is time to investigate why it's happening and determine a solution.
What causes absenteeism in the workplace?
An employee may experience absenteeism because of a myriad of reasons, and sometimes there may even be more than one problem. Although every situation is unique, here are some of the most common causes of absenteeism.
Illnesses and medical appointments are commonly reported causes for employee absenteeism. Although it is typical for colleagues to miss work because of physical or mental health reasons of their own, it's increasingly common for associates to skip work so they can take care of sick friends or family.
"Although the federal programs for FFCRA have expired, many families are finding it necessary to miss work to care for a sick loved one, stay home with children when teachers' schools or teachers are out for exposure, or even for typical childhood illnesses which require longer quarantines to be conservative in exposures of others," said Susan Anderson, chief services officer at Mineral.
Employees who hurt themselves on or off the job may result in excessive absences. Although it may seem obvious for an employee to stay home from work when they get an acute injury – injuries that are severe and suddenly onset, like broken bones, fractures and muscle sprains – employers should also keep an eye out for potential chronic injuries that develop slowly from overuse. Poor or unsafe working conditions can cause otherwise avoidable worker injuries.
Child or elder care
Employees may need to stay home from work to watch their child or an elder relative. This has become a bigger obstacle recently, as employees have had to manage stay-at-home orders and school closures due to COVID-19.
Absenteeism can be caused by factors like a toxic work environment, workplace bullying, harassment and poor management. Employees who don't feel safe or comfortable going to work tend to stay home more often. [Related article: 7 Types of Toxic Employees]
Employee burnout affects more than half of all workers, according to Indeed, and it can lead to increased absenteeism. If an employee is feeling overworked, they may choose to stay home for a little R&R.
Employee engagement is one of the top driving factors of an organization's success. Low employee engagement tends to decrease productivity and company morale, and increase employee turnover and absenteeism.
How do employers prevent absenteeism?
Employee absenteeism can negatively impact your organization, so it is essential to resolve it as soon as it occurs. When speaking with employees about their chronic tardiness or absence, address the conversation in a way that encourages them to be open and honest.
"If you notice an employee is consistently out of office, talk with them to understand the root cause," said Anna Dearmon Kornick, professional time management coach and head of community for Clockwise. "If the employee is otherwise engaged and performing well, be prepared to problem-solve and offer solutions."
1. Create a safe and healthy workplace.
To prevent avoidable injuries and illnesses – and maintain legal compliance with OSHA and other labor and employment laws – create a safe and healthy work environment for your staff. You can conduct regular employee training to promote healthful work practices.
2. Define clear policies and expectations.
Establish clear policies and expectations regarding employee absenteeism. Define what is and isn't acceptable, and the consequences are for those who don't comply. These formal policies should be written in your employee handbook and clearly communicated to your team. Enforce your policies fairly across the organization.
As with most things in business, your attendance policy may change over time. Adam Weber, senior vice president of community at 15Five, recommends conducting a policy audit to ensure your guidelines are up to date.
"Your policies are a reflection of your values; however, too often companies are reactive on their policies and only adjust after an issue arises," he said.
Weber added that you might need to adjust your policies to reflect the post-coronavirus environment.
3. Offer employee health and wellness benefits.
Employee health and wellness benefits can reduce employee absences due to illness and injuries. You can provide common wellness benefits – such as fitness club memberships, health screenings, health risk assessments, nutrition education, weight loss programs, employee assistance programs, and health and wellness incentives.
When creating an employee health and wellness program, offer benefits that support employee mental health as well.
4. Offer ample time off and encourage employees to use it.
Putting in overtime and working as many hours as possible used to be a badge of honor. Now, employers and employees realize the importance of establishing a good work-life balance, and that includes taking time away from work to recharge. Create a reasonable time and attendance policy that includes ample paid time off. Additionally, you should create a company culture that encourages employees to use their time-off benefits.
"It might sound counterproductive, but enabling and encouraging employees to take planned time away from work creates trust, goodwill, and a better mindset for employees to give their best," Anderson said. "Lower burnout translates into far less unplanned time away, which enables employers to better plan and operate their daily work."
5. Be flexible.
Flexibility is key, especially in current times where many employees have come to need it. Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, the world quickly learned that flexible benefits – like flextime, remote work – and hybrid working arrangements, are possible options for many workers. While some workers simply prefer a high level of flexibility, letting your employees work when and where is most convenient for them can also be a viable solution for reducing absenteeism.
"Look at what others in a similar industry are doing and be on the leading edge of flexibility," Weber said. "When employees have agency and choice on their schedules, they are more likely to honor them."
6. Set reasonable goals and workloads.
Your organization can reduce absenteeism by making sure staff workloads are reasonable. Overworking employees can cause burnout and frustration, which can lead to absenteeism. When establishing fair employee workloads, Anderson said, make sure that goals and metrics are achievable, fair, and adequately resourced.
"Other considerations are delegation of work and proper scheduling to meet customer and productivity needs of the company," Anderson added.
7. Prioritize employee engagement.
Employers who prioritize employee engagement see how it benefits not only their employees, but also their organization.
"Cultivating strong employee engagement can result in higher productivity, performance, and attendance because team members feel ownership over their work and their role in furthering the company's mission," Kornick said. "A highly engaged employee is at a lower risk for developing burnout."
8. Emphasize clear communication, trust and transparency.
Company culture can be a driving factor for employee absenteeism. Companies should strive to create a culture that encourages clear communication, trust, and transparency among employees and their managers. Associates should trust that they can tell their manager why they might need to take additional time off or switch to a flexible working arrangement, without fear of consequences. This allows employees to be honest with their managers about their struggles, and it can reduce the potential for unanticipated absences.
9. Train your managers.
Clear communication and trust begins with the right management team in place. Hire managers who display the type of company culture you are trying to create, and train them on how to effectively manage their team. When supervisors create an environment with high psychological safety, their direct reports are more inclined to communicate why they are unable to work.
10. Survey your employees for feedback.
If you're experiencing high employee absenteeism and not sure why, ask your staff. Weber said an anonymous survey will give you insights on the true cause of absenteeism.
When surveying employees, assure them that the survey is anonymous and they will not be penalized for any responses. After receiving the survey results, discuss them with your team and identify key areas for improvement.
"When absenteeism is happening, it is critical that you talk about it," Weber said. "Talk about the proper way to take time off, and highlight people doing it the right way. It's also important that you solve the issues that are causing it."