People Management
9 min.

Workplace Absenteeism: 8 Causes and How to Resolve Them

Sarah Busque
Last updated on 22 Dec. 2023
Published on 25 Jan. 2023
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Workplace absenteeism has many negative consequences, on both your company and your employees’ motivation.

Table of contents

And yet it is almost impossible to avoid—absenteeism is a reality in the labor market. That being said, there are several ways to fight it.

This post covers 8 potential personal or professional causes of absenteeism and how you can take action to address them.

What are the causes of absenteeism?

For an employer, absenteeism can generate a lot of frustration, from a staff-management point of view and in terms of the quality of your customer service. And with good reason: being one person short during busy times can make things miserable for your team. And for your customers!

Why do employees miss work? Might their absences be traced back to more serious factors, such as poor working relationships or burnout? Or are personal reasons, such as health issues or family situations, keeping them from showing up?

All these answers are plausible. Although your employees’ absences are likely to be more often caused by personal reasons, there may also be professional reasons behind them.

According to a 2019 study by Malakoff Humanis, 87% of employee absences were connected to non-work-related situations, as opposed to only 13% that were work-related. Interestingly, according to the same study, 33% of absences were related to both. 😮

Work-related reasons for absenteeism

In light of these figures, here are 5 work-related reasons for absenteeism and a few solutions.

1. Work schedules

If you see high absenteeism at your company, your schedules may be the culprit. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you regularly ask your employees to work the night shift, followed by the early-morning opening the next day?
  • Do you give your employees enough days off each week, and are those days consecutive?
  • If you offer rotating schedules, do you have a day shift occurring the day after a night shift?
  • Are you respecting your employees’ desired number of work hours per week, or do you deny time-off requests due to lack of staff?

Chances are, if your employees aren’t showing up to work for any of these reasons, it’s simply because they need more rest.

💡 Whether in terms of respecting employees’ availability, avoiding having closing shifts followed by openings the next day, or better managing leave requests, schedule management software is a highly effective tool. A good app can help you sort out various scheduling constraints and working conditions that can impact absenteeism on your team.

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2. The social climate at your company

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after physiological and safety needs, the next level up is our need for belonging. This need must be met both in our personal lives with family and friends, and at our jobs.

We humans need to feel that we are part of a group and that we have an important role within it. Among other things, team relationships, a sense of belonging and recognition at work are all conducive to a positive social climate.

💡 A corporate culture that builds on team strengths and employee recognition has many benefits, including engaged employees. And when employees are engaged, absenteeism AND turnover rates decrease.

So why not hit two birds with one stone by highlighting your daily successes, big and small?

3. Relationships with colleagues

How is your team’s morale? Are there tensions between certain employees, or have you noticed anything different in your employees’ relationships?

Peer relationships, which are part of a business’ social climate, can directly impact absenteeism rates. An employee will be much more reluctant to come to work if they have been teamed up with someone they don’t get along with.

At some point in our career, we’ve all had to work with someone we weren’t necessarily fond of. That being said, as a manager, it is your job to spot strained relationships and to address them before things unravel.

💡 Take advantage of your one-on-one meetings to discuss relationships between colleagues. This is a perfect time to check in on your various team members. In addition to getting to know your employees better, these talks give you another opportunity to offer recognition.

In addition to holding one-on-ones, regularly survey your employees using anonymous (or named) surveys. It’s a great way to collect information on working relationships.

4. Stress at work

It’s no secret that stress is the bane of productivity and happiness at work. Unsurprisingly, stressed employees are more likely to regularly miss work.

Many factors can act as stressors, from particularly difficult tasks to busy periods, schedules that fail to respect requests for time off, tensions with team members or clients, inadequate work tools, and more. Another major potential stressor to consider, employees’ relationship with their manager!

💡 If you feel that the stress level is too high on your team, have you checked in with yourself to see how you are doing? Stressed-out managers rarely make for happy employees. So why not lead by example? If you’re stressed out, make a positive change by:

  • Prioritizing and organizing the work to be done
  • Taking an interest in your colleagues
  • Taking your breaks
  • Asking for help
  • Taking your PTO
  • Delegating and trusting your team
  • Allowing yourself to unplug from work
  • Limiting your coffee intake 🫠

5. Occupational illness

Exhaustion and burnout are serious issues that are often at the root of recurring absences. These topics are particularly sensitive because not all employees will be willing to discuss mental health with their manager. Yet destigmatizing these issues helps everyone across the board.

💡 Establishing a relationship of trust with your team will pave the way for more natural and transparent conversations with your employees. Don’t hesitate to be supportive by lending a hand when things get busy at work. If you notice that an employee seems overwhelmed with their tasks, ask them how you can help. Small gestures like these will help you build trust with your team. Also, be sure to take your employees seriously when they raise red flags.

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Personal reasons that can influence the rate of absenteeism at work

Here are some examples of personal reasons that might be behind your employees’ absences. While it may be harder to act on these reasons directly as a manager, there are ways you can support your employees.

6. Employees’ health

Even if your employees enjoy outstanding health, they are not immune to viruses such as the flu or inflammation such as gastroenteritis. And if they are sick, showing up to work is not a good idea. In addition to being less productive, these employees risk contaminating your other team members. Worse still, they could damage your company’s reputation by infecting your customers.

Imagine going to a restaurant for dinner and being served by a waiter with a runny nose who can’t stop coughing and sneezing. He may wash his hands often and the food may be great, but I bet that meal won’t be quite as enjoyable! 🤧

💡 Your employees will get sick from time to time—it’s a fact of life. To lower the stress of sick leave, why not offer a bank of wellness leave that employees can use when they aren’t feeling well? Make the rules clear and explain how these leaves work. You can make things even easier by allowing employees to swap shifts. This will make it much easier to find a replacement.

7. Employees’ family situation

Your employees have a life outside of work. Some have children, while others may be caregivers for a family member. These responsibilities create constraints that can impact employees’ presence at work.

An employee may have to step out for a doctor’s appointment. Or pick up their child from school when they have a fever. Whatever the reason, the family situation of your employees is sure to eventually result in absenteeism.

💡 Your employees need to have a work-life balance that enables them to fulfill their responsibilities to their families. You can help them in a variety of ways, including offering rotating schedules and respecting requested work hours and time off. Here again, trading shifts is also a win-win since it gives your employees greater flexibility and makes it easier for you to fill absences.

8. Employees’ lifestyle

Employees who opt for unhealthy lifestyle habits are likely to have higher absenteeism rates at your company. While lifestyle is a private matter, you can set up initiatives that encourage your team members to make choices supportive of their overall health.

💡 Some employers offer gym memberships, sports allowances and insurance that covers massage therapy and other treatments. You can also offer healthy snacks at work to make it easier to eat healthy. Encouraging active transportation and offering nutrition training are also good avenues to explore.

How to calculate your absenteeism rate

An absenteeism rate of 4% is considered normal, while a rate closer to 8% is alarming. Note that this figure will vary from one industry and company to another.

To calculate your absenteeism rate, simply divide the number of hours absent by the number of scheduled work hours within the same period of time. We recommend using the month and year as the reference period.

(Number of hours absent / Number of planned hours) × 100

For example, for a company with 30 employees who work 7 hours a day and had 12 days of absence (12 days of absence × 7 hours of work = 84 hours of absence).

Planned hours of work in a month: 4,410 hours (21 days × 7 hours per day × 30 employees).

Absenteeism rate: (84 / 4,410) × 100 = 1.9%

Absenteeism at work and your role as a manager

I have presented you with several solutions to address the different potential causes of high absenteeism at your company. As you can see, there’s no need to spend large sums or look to complicated solutions to reduce employee absences.

As a manager, never underestimate the power of your role and the positive or negative impact you can have on your team. Now it’s time for you to take action! Make sure you have the right tools in place and demonstrate emotional intelligence and open-mindedness.

To conclude, remember that your employees are simply human, just as you are, and they may need to be miss work from time to time.

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