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The Causes and Costs of Absenteeism

Understanding Absenteeism

The chronic absence of an employee from their place of employment is known as absenteeism. In other words, when a person misses work frequently for genuine reasons such as planned vacations, periodic illness, or personal emergencies, it is referred to as habitual non-attendance or absenteeism.

The Causes and Costs of Absenteeism

Over-absenteeism may result from various factors, such as unresolved personal matters, chronic health challenges, and dissatisfying employment. Regardless of the underlying reason, a worker who develops a long-term pattern of absences risks damaging their image and jeopardizing their long-term employment. However, many types of absences from work are legally protected and cannot be used as justification for dismissal.

Absence from work beyond what would be deemed acceptable and typical owing to vacation, personal work leave, or a rare illness is a more common reason for absenteeism. Businesses also anticipate that each year, for various good reasons, some employees may be absent.

However, missing work becomes an issue for the business when the employee is away frequently and without warning, particularly if the person is required to be paid while absent. When an employee is absent during busy seasons of the year or when deadlines for important tasks loom, absenteeism becomes a critical issue for any business.

While being on disability leave, serving on a jury, and observing religious holidays are all legitimate excuses for an employee to skip work, some employees take advantage of these legal protections, burdening their companies with excessive expenditures.

The Causes of Absenteeism

The principal causes for absenteeism are listed in detail below:

Burnout: Due to high-stress levels and a lack of gratitude for their services, overworked personnel in high-risk positions occasionally report sick.

Harassment: Employees routinely teased by senior management or other employees tend to skip work to avoid constant annoyance.

Both Child and Geriatric Care: Workers caring for loved ones may lose significant time at work when regularly contracted carers or babysitters become unwell and are temporarily unable to fulfil their commitments.

Pressure or Overload: According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is the primary reason for absenteeism in the United States. People with this illness frequently misuse alcohol and drugs, which results in further lost workdays.

Disengagement: Apathetic employees are more prone to neglect their tasks because they lack motivation.

Sicknesses or Injuries: Workers' most often cited excuses for missing work are illnesses, accidents, and doctor's visits. During flu season, there is a sharp increase in absence cases.

The Costs of Absenteeism

A drop in corporate productivity is the direct cost of absenteeism, resulting in lower sales and profits. Employees who are unable to work are unable to contribute to the expansion and success of a business.

The purpose for which they were employed causes a vacuum in the workforce if other workers cannot fill the job of these missing employees. Even if other employees manage to take up the labour of absent employees, they will have more work to do, which may eventually cause burnout.

For example, suppose there are three employees whose employment objectives depend on John performing task ABC. If John went on leave from work a few times each month, his output would be less than if he had been there at work every day. Since John was recruited to complete Task ABC, there would be a delay. As a result, people based on this task ABC will not be able to complete their tasks as well.

This delays not only his job but also that of those who rely on him, which in turn decreases the company's output. Revenues and earnings fall as a result of this decline in productivity.

Other costs of absenteeism include low morale for employees covering for absent employees, poor quality work from overworked employees, an additional burden on managers, increased costs due to paying absent employees even when they are not working, increased administrative costs associated with dealing with absenteeism, and higher costs associated with having to find replacements for absent employees, whether that be temporary or permanent.

How to reduce absenteeism?

Employers can reduce absenteeism by taking several proactive measures, such as rewarding regular attendance, offering emotional support to staff, establishing clear expectations for attendance, and formalizing the company's attendance policy in written documents that all new hires must review and sign.

Employers might also concentrate on health programs to reduce absenteeism. These can include allowing employees to work from home sometimes to aid with work-life balance, offering discounts on gym memberships and child care, and adding additional physical and mental health perks that workers can make use of.

Additionally, most jobs allow employees to take a certain number of personal or sick leave. Depending on the organization and its regulations, a range of actions can be taken against an employee. Most of these actions would be disciplinary and might lead to job termination.


A required paid sick leave policy, where each employee is given a certain number of days each year to utilize for illness or injury, has been adopted by several businesses, towns, and states to solve issues like these.

The argument put up by opponents of obligatory sick leave is that it will ultimately increase costs for businesses and result in more layoffs. Additionally, opponents worry that workers will take all of their sick days even if they are not necessary. However, proponents of the measure contend that paid sick leave is economically sensible since it would help prevent the spread of infectious illnesses in the workplace, which will eventually lead to fewer absences, and sick workers will have more time to recuperate.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, which believes that sick food handlers are to blame for 53% of norovirus infections, the food service sector might be particularly affected by paid sick leave. A single sick food handler may hypothetically spread the illness to dozens or even hundreds of individuals, leading to numerous absences that could have been prevented if the worker had just stayed at home.

Unfortunately, people frequently go to work even when infectious because they either need the money or are concerned about getting fired for calling in sick.

Actions that Employers can Take

Because there are both good and bad reasons to miss work, absenteeism is a particularly challenging issue to solve. Employers may find it extremely difficult to efficiently monitor, manage, and eliminate absenteeism. It might be challenging to tell if an individual is truly ill when absent from work unless a corporation, for instance, demands a written excuse from a doctor.

Employers must also take into account the additional costs incurred when a sick employee spreads an infection that sickens a large portion of their clients or the entire division.

Some businesses provide rewards for showing up to work, such as earned time off or lottery tickets for employees who don't take any unexcused absences within a predetermined time frame, to lower absenteeism. Other businesses could adopt a more proactive strategy, putting in place policies that centre on handling employee health issues, such as:

  • Physical fitness.
  • Psychiatric wellbeing.
  • Working from home balance.
  • Educational programs for economic and environmental health.

The rationale behind this strategy is that happier, healthier workers would be more equipped and motivated to report to work each day, increasing productivity and boosting morale for both the individual employees and the overall team. Although implementing and maintaining these employee wellness programs may be costly, they may have a net positive impact on a company's bottom line, which is advantageous for business.

The Bottom Line

Each year, absenteeism costs American businesses billions of dollars in missed productivity, pay, subpar goods and services, and extra management time. Additionally, the workers that do arrive at work are frequently assigned additional tasks and responsibilities to cover for the absences of other workers, which can cause irritation and a drop in morale.

There will always be occasional absences from work when individuals become sick or hurt, have to care for others or require time to manage personal matters during working hours. Employers find it hardest to manage regular absences, which may also be the most detrimental to co-workers. Since missed workdays have a significant negative financial impact on a company's bottom line, it is essential for most firms to create strict policies that objectively monitor, control, and address absenteeism.

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