Your workforce is your biggest asset, which is why keeping teams happy, healthy, and present is essential. However, it’s estimated that absenteeism in the workplace costs employers $225.8 billion annually. That’s approximately $1,685 per employee per year! For many businesses, this will take a significant toll on the bottom line. In some instances, it could make or break a company entirely.
But, what is absenteeism and what causes it? Are there ways to reduce or eliminate the adverse effects? If any of these questions have crossed your mind, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll provide all the information you need about absenteeism, what causes it, and helpful strategies to reduce absenteeism in your organization.
What is Absenteeism in the Workplace?
Many organizations think of absenteeism purely in terms of missed work days. However, it actually runs much deeper than that. So, what is absenteeism in the larger sense? Time off for sick days, family emergencies, and other time away from the office is certainly a part of it. But your metrics tracking absenteeism should also evaluate performance while in the office.
Employees can be physically present without being mentally present, which can result in decreased productivity or performance. Things to look out for include:
- Presenteeism – When employees are physically at work but not focused or doing other things. This includes employees who show up at work when they are sick, those whose minds are focused on stresses or strains outside the workplace, and staff that use work time to look for alternative employment.
- Leavism – When employees come to work but do not fulfill their contracted hours. Examples include coming in late, leaving early, taking long breaks and lunches, and running personal errands during work time.
Presenteeism, leavism, and physical absenteeism in the workplace all affect the company’s bottom line. However, presenteeism and leavism are much harder to track. This makes reducing overall absenteeism difficult unless you actively pinpoint the causes and develop a thorough plan for how to manage absenteeism in the workplace.
What Causes Absenteeism in the Workplace?
There are several reasons why staff may take time off or become disengaged at work. The most common causes of absenteeism include:
- Illness – Unsurprisingly, illness and medical appointments are the most commonly reported reasons for absenteeism at work. CDC research shows a particular spike in absenteeism during flu season.
- Injury – Injuries can cause prolonged absence. The most common injuries include back and neck problems, hernias, fractures, strains, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Burnout – Heavy workloads, tight deadlines, and hectic schedules for meetings and presentations can leave employees feeling physically and mentally drained. According to Deloitte’s workplace burnout survey, 77% of employees say they have experienced employee burnout in their current job.
- Stress – Research shows that 84% of Americans report feeling stressed weekly. This can be due to work stress, but also includes personal stressors outside the workplace such as relationship problems, health concerns, and financial worries.
- Low Morale – Feeling unappreciated is a leading cause of absenteeism. Surveys show that around two-thirds of the workforce feel unappreciated daily, and 59% of workers say they’ve never had a boss who truly appreciates their work.
- Bullying and harassment – People who have negative relationships with their colleagues and bosses are more likely to call in sick. Studies show that 1 in 5 Americans have experienced some form of verbal abuse, unwanted sexual attention, threats, or uncomfortable behavior at work.
- Depression – Studies have shown that depression is one of the leading causes of absenteeism. In addition, untreated depression can lead to more severe problems, including alcohol or substance abuse.
- Caregiving – If childcare or eldercare arrangements fall through or a relative becomes unexpectedly sick, employees are more likely to miss work to cover their care. Nearly a quarter of US workers (23%) say they have taken leave from work to care for a family member.
- Job Hunting – It’s not unusual for employees to spend work time updating their resumes or applying for new jobs. Additionally, many take time off to attend interviews or meet with a recruiter.
How to Reduce Absenteeism in the Workplace
While it’s impossible to eliminate absenteeism at work altogether, there are several solutions to absenteeism in the workplace that can significantly reduce employee absences. After all, people will always get sick, and accidents, injuries, and unforeseen events are an inevitability. However, by developing robust policies and practices, companies can set absenteeism reduction goals and take measures to limit employee absence to a more manageable threshold.
In addition to prioritizing employee health, here are some examples of successful strategies to reduce absenteeism.
Publicize Health & Safety Best Practices
With heightened health and safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, this is likely nothing new to you. During flu season, in particular, having signs in kitchens, washrooms, and other communal spaces reminding employees to wash their hands thoroughly after activities like eating and bathroom breaks can significantly reduce the spread of bacteria that cause illness around the office.
Offer Enough Paid Time Off (PTO)
When employees have the flexibility to take paid sick leave and paid family leave, they feel more valued. Staff who feel appreciated tend to be loyal and stay with the company for longer, so the whole organizational culture improves. Plus, when sick people can stay home, you prevent other employees from getting ill too. Offering PTO also makes it easier for managers to track absences and plan for potential shortfalls in staffing.
Develop an Employee Assistance Program
An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a voluntary program where staff can seek free and confidential services to help address personal and work-related problems that affect their mental and emotional well-being. EAPs help with a range of issues, including:
- Workplace conflict
- Career management
- Family problems
- Health and fitness
- Legal concerns
- Financial stress
Happier, healthier staff are more productive and take less time off, and it’s estimated that employers could reap back 8x what they invest into EAP programs.
Implement a Workplace Wellness Program
Workplace Wellness Programs are designed to improve and promote health and fitness across your organization, both of which are key factors in reducing absenteeism. Employee benefits can include gym memberships, mental health workshops, doctor consults, and immunization shots. Specific help may also be available on topics like diabetes management, weight loss programs, and smoking cessation.
Implement a Work From Home (WFH) Policy
While it may not seem like an obvious strategy for absenteeism reduction, allowing employees to work remotely is beneficial for both employee and employer. Your staff saves time and money on commuting, and it’s estimated that companies could save more than $11,000 per employee every year by allowing their teams to work remotely. That said, WFH policies need to be carefully considered to ensure enough support to keep staff motivated and connected.
Giving employees the flexibility to get their work done on their terms means they can organize their lives better. Being able to start a little later, take an extended break, or finish work earlier means employees can plan their workdays to fit around other factors. For example, those with children can accommodate the school run, those with caregiving responsibilities can take a longer lunch break to do the supermarket run at an off-peak time, and people can attend medical appointments without needing to stress about getting back to the office within an hour.
Commit to Health Screenings
Regular health screenings are effective at reducing absenteeism because they can detect the warning signs of conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and other serious conditions before they become dangerous to employees or result in a lengthy sick leave. Additionally, drug testing can be implemented if substance abuse is a concern. Although not always popular with employees, drug testing helps get people on the road to better health while simultaneously boosting engagement and productivity.
Make Your Policies Clear
Whatever measures you introduce to reduce absenteeism at work, your employees must understand your policies clearly. To reduce confusion, companies should draw up an attendance policy and ensure every existing and new employee has access to a copy. The policy should cover:
- PTO benefits – The amount of paid time off an employee receives and under which circumstances they can use it.
- How to handle planned absence – Notice periods, who to notify, how to log time off, etc.
- How to handle unplanned absence – Who to notify, how to log hours and make up lost time, etc.
Gather Regular Feedback
Businesses that demonstrate an ability to listen to employee needs and adapt to meet them have some of the strongest workforces. By regularly asking for feedback and incorporating the responses into future policy plans and updates, you can ensure employees remain motivated, loyal, and engaged.
Cut the Causes of Absenteeism at the Root
Looking for help on how to reduce absenteeism in the workplace? Eden Health can help.
We believe the best way to reduce absenteeism in the workplace and increase staff wellness, loyalty, and retention is by integrating premium healthcare into your employee benefits packages.
We specialize in collaborative approaches that can save your company time and money while protecting your greatest asset: your employees. From full-spectrum primary care and mental health care to insurance benefit advisory services, we can help you find the right solutions to keep your teams happy, healthy, and productive.