How To Deal With Absenteeism In The Workplace: A Complete Guide For 2021

Business Management
Denis Yankovsky January 5, 2021 12 min read
"Sorry We Are Closed" door sign, employee absent

Quick Guide

    There are many valid reasons for your employees to be absent at work.  Sick days, maternity leave, vacation, requested days off for family errands — all those are common, normal parts of any workplace.  

    Unscheduled and unsolicited absences from work, on the other hand, can squander your work environment and cause a lot of trouble both for your business and employees. It can affect your business’s bottom line, finances, morale, and productivity

    Few random unplanned absences here and there can easily be caused by sudden circumstances, but if you notice a pattern, and absenteeism becomes a habit for some of your employees — it’s time to intervene and act.

    So Why Is Absenteeism In The Workplace A Problem?

    Unfortunately, employee absenteeism is not all that rare —  in fact, it is the classic problem for employers and business owners, especially during the economic downswings and obscurity, caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic

    But it has always been a problem, even before COVID, because if employees don’t want to come to work —  almost any reason will do. 

    For example, a study from The Workforce Institute conducted during the final season of Game of Thrones, showed that more than 34% of US employees (27.2 million) admitted they are more likely to call in sick and stay home, arrive late, or be less productive in the workplace, than normal.

    When absenteeism in the workplace becomes a habit — it costs employers lots of money too — the average annual costs related to lost productivity due to absenteeism in the U.S. are believed to stand at $3,600 per hourly employee per year, and $2,650 per salaried employee per year, according to research by Circadian Technologies, Inc. And those are still conservative estimates, so if you have hundreds or thousands of employees, the cost adds up progressively.

    Confused HR person calling a missing employee
    Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

    If you want to substantially reduce the impact of employee absenteeism on your business’s bottom line — you have to create an employee attendance improvement plan, designing clear attendance policies, and have a robust solution for tracking and managing employee attendance.  

    But to do all that, you have to tackle the original reasons causing your workers to sabotage work, such as vague policies, low employee morale, health issues, or time-tracking issues.

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    What Does Employee Absenteeism Cost Your Business?

    The real cost of employee absenteeism in the workplace is frequently underestimated, or even ignored completely as a “negligible”, but it is seen as a part of the payroll expenses which is hard to measure. Also, many companies are just not capable of carefully tracking employee absenteeism, because they don’t have accurate time-tracking solutions in place. 

    The truth is though, sometimes absenteeism becomes excessive and translates to losses, much more substantial than just the regular payroll costs.

    In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017 alone, almost 3% of all the U.S. employer’s workforce was absent on any given day

    Back in 2013, the Gallup-Healthways wellbeing survey found the total costs related to lost productivity in the US to be just over $84 billion in one year.

    According to Kronos, the total cost of employee absences, unplanned, and planned, is more than twice the average employer’s cost for health care. See Total Financial Impact of Employee Absences in the U.S.

    How businesses lose money due to employee absenteeism?

    Direct costs are:

    • Losses in salary. According to the studies, each absent employee costs between 1x to 2x compared to the same person’s normal salary. On top of that, add money improperly paid to absent employees, overtime pay for replacement employees and/or temporary workers, etc.
    • Losses in work hours. Another measure of absenteeism is to express cumulative lost time in terms of full-time equivalent positions. 

    Despite the significance of direct costs, indirect costs represent an even larger impact of employee absence. Indirect costs result when work is delayed or co-workers and supervisors are affected because of an employee’s absence.

    Indirect costs and effects of absenteeism include:

    • Losses in productivity and quality. Employers can face losses, caused by reduced productivity, drop in the  quality of goods/services, 
    • Administrative costs of managing absenteeism, such as excessive managers’ time spent on dealing with discipline and finding suitable employee replacements
    • Safety issues, caused by inadequately trained employees filling in for others, rushing to catch up after arriving as a replacement, etc
    • Poor morale among employees who have to “fill in” or do extra work to cover absent coworkers

    Most Common Causes Of Absenteeism And No-shows In The Workplace

    The most common reasons for no-shows could be split into two major types: Technical and Moral.

    The classic examples of technical reasons are:

    The technical reasons mostly revolve around the workplace organizational structure and can be solved with:

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    The moral reasons for employees to be missing at work without valid reasons might include:

    • Harassment and bullying by the colleagues or managers
    • Depression, stress, and burnout
    • Lack of engagement and purpose
    • Job hunting — yes, sometimes employees do call in sick to attend a job interview, or work on their resumes

    The job-hunting process is a technical, time-consuming reason, actually stopping employees from showing up at work. But it is mostly caused by moral discomfort, and unhappiness at the workplace, so it’s a classic HR issue. Because employees are almost always quitting their managers and colleagues, rather than the actual jobs.

    This second type of reasons that may cause employee absenteeism is much deeper, and require a complex HR strategy, including:

    All those activities combined mean building a seasoned and consistent company culture that will become that glue, holding your people together.

    HR sharing presentation with employees
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    By the way, if your employees do show up at work, but tend to round-up hours and cut corners here and there, there is a separate term for it, called “Time-Theft”, and we have a dedicated complete guide on it.

    How to Deal with Employee Absenteeism?

    The employee attendance improvement plan includes a number of steps.

    1. Create An Employee Attendance Policy

    The first and most important tip is to create a clear attendance policy. This should set the rules for absences from work and state what qualifies as an excusable absence and what doesn’t.

    The majority of employees will appreciate preemptive measures, clear policies, and facilitative, rather than punitive programs. Punitive measures will force employees to come to work, but will result in employees becoming “absent while at work.” — doing as little as possible, bringing no effort, and “counting hours”. 

    Instead — try to help employees be present at work, by offering options, such as flexible work schedule, family care days, job-sharing

    2. Simplify Absence Requests And Approvals

    Offer a clear procedure and an accessible channel for employee absence requests and attendance reports, such as a simple mobile time clock app.

    A time clock app makes the clock in/clock out process a breeze and also lets employees send requests to managers. 

    • Who is clocked-in right now? 
    • How many employees clocked in today in total?
    • Who is late and hasn’t started his day yet?
    • Who is absent today? Was it requested and approved upfront?
    • Who reached the daily work-time limit?
    • Who stayed overtime?
    • Who requested a day-off and why?

    Managers will get push notifications when a request is made and will be able to review and approve requests on the go. Your employees will be notified in real-time whether their requests have been approved or declined directly on their mobile!

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    3. Keep A Good Track Of Employee Absences 

    The first step towards improving employee attendance is an accurate time tracking and storing this data. The way to track employee absences depends on what fits you or supervisors in charge of attendance control. 

    With an employee attendance app, that information is safely stored and always available for human resources managers or business owners, in a simple digital dashboard of a time-tracking app, both for the desktop computer, and a mobile phone.

    With apps, like the Connecteam employee time clock app, you can even set automatic time-clock and attendance automatic reports which will send supervisors notifications every time an absence arises, or a request has been sent.

    You can create various types of auto reports, such as:

    • Morning report that will show which employees are absent today
    • “Customer report” that will present the employees who worked for that customer.
    • Report that shows who started their day or who was yet to do so
    • “End of day” report that will mention the users who are still clocked-in, reached the daily work limit, were automatically clocked out or worked overtime hours.

    employee time clock notifications reports

    Don’t Just Treat Absenteeism Symptoms, Address The Cause

    As we’ve already mentioned before, employee absenteeism in the workplace is a complex issue, and technical solutions preventing people from no-shows are simply not enough. 

    In order to overcome this nasty habit among your workforce once and for all, you should address the moral issues your employees might face, which causes them to dodge work.

    4. Recognize Your Employees

    Sometimes absenteeism at work originates from employees feeling unnoticed, disengaged, not heard or seen.  They assume that their accomplishments are not seen, they don’t feel their role is valued, so they decide they can rather stay home. 

    Implement proper employee recognition tactics for a job well done — this way you can motivate employees to show up and do their best. 

    Give shoutouts for personal milestones like birthdays or work anniversaries to reiterate your appreciation — it costs you nothing, but means a lot to your workforce and adds to the overall positive vibe in your team.

    5. Improve Employee Morale

    Talk to employees to understand your best options for boosting morale — whether that means setting up positive events like volunteer days or employee appreciation days, improving employee recognition, or investing in training and development opportunities.

    It sounds surprising, but training is one of the most effective ways to keep employee morale up. In fact, as much as 40% of employees who receive poor or very little on-the-job training will leave your company within their first year of employment. And whenever employees leave, it costs businesses even more, than absenteeism.

    6. Stimulate High Attendance And Approved Absence Patterns. 

    One of the successful tactics of absence control involves the so-called PTO banks”.

    PTO or “Paid Time Off” plans provide employees with an amount of legitimate paid time off that employees can use for various purposes, and personal matters, not just typical sick leaves, and vacations.

    Absences and Paid Time Off app

    Another example of a positive attendance habit tool is a flexible schedule policy if it applies to your type of business. By giving employees an opportunity to adapt the work schedule to their actual living conditions, you can substantially improve their quality of life, which always results in increased productivity and engagement.

    Also, try to encourage employees to be present and reward attendance champions with prizes, incentives, or wellness programs.

    7. Legal & Disciplinary Actions:

    Sometimes, despite all our efforts, there are still employees that repeatedly “go missing” again and again, failing to show any improvement. 

    In that case, you probably should consider turning to the disciplinary and legal actions, in order to minimize your own risks and losses.

    If some of your people recently are away more and more, it might be a bad trend. Make sure to check up on those people as soon as you notice this, and start with an informal chat to find out what’s happening and how you could help.

    When that doesn’t work, you might move on to an informal warning, before a first written warning. If their absenteeism persists, you may be willing to consider a final warning letter for absenteeism, a formal review, suspension from work, or even termination of employment. Sometimes it’s cheaper to hire and train a new employee, that will be the right fit, than trying to deal with someone who’s rather a loss than a value.

    If you do need to write one of your staff a warning, you can use this free warning letter template.

    Bottom Line On Dealing With Absenteeism

    Absenteeism in the workplace is a huge problem for many businesses, from local small businesses to international enterprises, but the backbone of it is always the same — it happens when employees are not happy or lack purpose, while managers and supervisors don’t have a robust time-tracking and time-management solutions in place.  The efforts to reduce absenteeism within your workforce are really important and may have surprising effects on your revenues.

    Before implementing any of these measures, it’s important to consider the reasons for absenteeism in your workplace and try to address that problem. But, your first step should be a detailed absence/attendance policy, and a bulletproof time tracking software.

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