When a member of their workforce is repeatedly absent without prior permission, they can be described as engaging in absenteeism. Although businesses have to contend with their staff missing work for a variety of reasons, the most challenging of these are unplanned absences that they can’t control.

Absenteeism not only impacts a company’s bottom line but also on their staff’s productivity and morale. This post explores the idea of absenteeism, its causes, and the best ways to minimise it.

What is absenteeism?

Absenteeism is a term used to describe a pattern of unplanned, unexplained, or unauthorised absences from work. 

Common causes of absenteeism include:

Sickness or injury

The most common type of unplanned absence is sick leave, when an employee misses work due to illness or injury. Managing sickness absence is a hard balancing act for businesses. On one hand, you want staff to stay away if they’re genuinely sick, but, on the other, you want to minimise sick days. As we cover later in this article, doing your best to keep your workforce healthy is main thing you can do to prevent sickness absence.


An employee is just as likely to take time off for reasons related to their mental health as those pertaining to their physical health, and the most common cause of this is stress.  Persistent levels of elevated stress can make it hard for many workers to face the day, which can result in their absence from work. If such stress is left unaddressed, it will eventually lead to burnout. 

Low workforce morale

If your workforce struggles to get along with one another or frequently clashes with management, workers are more likely to be absent. This can lead to a lack of engagement with their job and less loyalty to the company – further decreasing their motivation to come to work. 

Lack of flexible working practices

If your company doesn’t have any flexible working practices in place, this can result in employees ‘managing their own time’ and contributing to a culture of absenteeism. This includes employees with children who struggle to consistently secure reliable childcare, which can lead to irregular start and finish times. The same could be true of staff with sick or elderly relatives, as well as those with similar responsibilities outside of work that requires them to take time off at short notice.  

Absenteeism is an important metric for businesses because it acts as a strong indicator of their staff’s health, morale, and level of job satisfaction.

What are the effects of absenteeism?

Absenteeism can have a significant impact on a company’s productivity and, consequently, its profitability. 

First and foremost, when employees are absent, they can’t contribute to a company’s output. However, they still contribute to the business’ costs, especially if they have a their own employee sick pay scheme – but at the very least they’ll receive statutory sick pay. 

This absence can go on to affect the rest of the absent employee’s colleagues, some of whom will have to work harder to make up for their not being there. If this happens frequently, this can put a dent in morale, especially if people perceive a member of staff to be ‘getting away with’ not coming into work. At worst, it may cause other workers to intentionally push the boundaries of their attendance and timekeeping to see if they’re treated in the same way as their frequently-absent colleagues. At this point, absenteeism has seeped into your company culture. 

For the employee, on the other hand, being off frequently makes it harder to feel like part of the team. They won’t have spent as much time with their colleagues and, as touched on above, there’s a chance their co-workers resent them for constantly ‘leaving them in the lurch’.  

Also, if they’ve been absent for reasons related to mental health, and their absence from work causes them to fall behind on their workload, this can further add to their stress and anxiety.  

How to deal with absenteeism


The primary way to deal with absenteeism is to talk to employees who frequently take time off from work. By addressing the employee, and their attendance issues, directly, and being very clear about their consequences, you can nip them in the bud quickly. The employee may have an underlying issue, you’re unaware of, that contributes to their frequent absence and, subsequently, that you can support them through.

Additionally, you should document the fact that you addressed their absenteeism and made them aware of what would happen if it were to continue. This will work in your favour if you ever have to dismiss them and they contest the decision in a tribunal. 

Publish your absence policy

Ensure you have an absence policy, that clearly states what your company requires in terms of notice for an absence to be considered authorised. You also need to outline the consequences for repeated unauthorised absences. That way, if, down the line, if you have to dismiss an employee, they can’t claim they weren’t aware of what would happen.

If you have already have an absence policy, remind your employees where to find it, and of its most important points, if absenteeism starts to spiral out of control.

Track absences

Track staff absences so you’re aware of how frequently they occur and can spot patterns. This is significantly easier with absence management software, which will tally up the number of days off each member of staff has taken automatically. 

In addition, absence management software also features a staff holiday planner which details how frequently each of your employees takes annual leave. If you’re concerned about the wellbeing of a member of your workforce, and suspect they might be on the verge of burning out, the holiday planner will reveal how much annual leave allowance they have left – and when they last took a day off. You could then suggest they take a few days to recharge.   

Invest in workplace health initiative

Work towards decreasing sick leave in by investing in workplace wellness initiatives. This can include improving the air quality, investing in ergonomic furniture, and championing short breaks throughout the day to encourage movement. Many companies subsidise their employees’ gym or health club subscriptions to promote regular exercise.

Similarly, invest in your company culture with team-building events or social activities in which everyone can get to know each other a little better outside a work setting. 

Reduce stress

In an effort to reduce your employees’ stress levels, invest in measures that promote mental health, as well as physical health. This could include introducing, or improving, your company’s flexible workplace measures, such as remote working and duvet days. Perhaps you could have a town hall meeting, or something similar, where your employees suggest the type of measures that would help them most.

Also, just as importantly, start to establish your company as one in which people can come forward and feel comfortable to talk about their mental health struggles without fear of judgment or, worse, discrimination.