The Ultimate Guide to Employee Absenteeism

Employee absenteeism is a continuously growing challenge for employers of all sizes. You don't have to stress about this. This guide aims to explain everything there is to know about this phenomenon: why does it appear, how badly it can affect your organization, the root causes and how to eradicate it.

In 2017 the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) determined that almost 3% of an employer's workforce was absent on any given day.

Some may say: well, it’s not that problematic! Emergencies sometimes occur, but shifts can be rearranged, the business won’t suffer. But what if “emergencies” start to appear more and more? And absenteeism becomes the rule rather than the exception.

At first sight, it may look like it’s an employee-related issue, but actually, an increased absenteeism rate will speak about your company.

In this guide you will learn about:

What is employee absenteeism?

Absenteeism is what happens when an employee begins to habitually and frequently miss work, without a valid cause. This means that we cannot speak about absenteeism in case of paid leave or occasions where the employer has granted an employee time off.

Every company is different, so you need to discover the cause of this phenomenon in your office. How to accomplish that?

Maybe one of the best occasions is an exit interview when the former employee is more inclined to be truthful.

If you want your current employees’ opinion, consider taking an anonymous survey on this topic or have one-on-one meetings with them.

Causes of employee absenteeism

Some of the most common reasons for absenteeism are:

  • Bullying and harassment - if an employee is being bullied either by co-workers, or by a manager, they may be inclined to engage in absenteeism, in order to avoid the unpleasant situation.
  • Stress - regardless of the reason, personal or professional, stress is a major cause of absenteeism. A stressed employee may feel that going to work every day will only increase their level of stress and this can also lead to a lack of motivation. On the other hand, not only a challenging job can lead to stress, but also one that is not challenging enough because they will feel useless.
  • Caregiving - when the employee is a carer, either for a child or for an elder person, he is prone to miss work for various appointments or to stay home if that person is ill.
  • Low morale and disengagement - managers who will not express appreciation for their employees will drive them to absenteeism, since feeling undervalued at work will result in low morale.
  • Bereavement - dealing with bereavement is never easy and work will come second. Sudden death may cause a great impact and the employee will be absent longer than usual.
  • Depression - still the top cause of absenteeism in the USA. Whether it’s caused by the job itself or not, depression will drive the employee into frequently missing work.
  • Chronic illness - here we talk about very diverse causes, from a simple allergy from an autoimmune disease. But the most common health reasons for absenteeism concentrate on ergonomic problems, such as back, neck or hand pain, if we refer to office personnel. On the other hand, musculoskeletal injuries are widespread injuries among those employees who do manual labor.
  • Job interviews - even though is not a prevalent cause of absenteeism, we cannot rule it out. When employees start missing work because of the endless “traffic jams”, it may be because they are involved in a recruiting process with other companies.

Other more sophisticated forms of absenteeism

Here are some examples of how an employee can begin to dive into absenteeism in a more subtle manner:

  • Breaks. Taking too many and too long breaks equals absenteeism
  • Lateness. If your employees are chronically arriving late and leaving early, you are facing a form of absenteeism
  • Decreased productivity. An employee that begins to produce less and less for the same hours worked is showing warning signs of early absenteeism patterns.

Cost and effects of absenteeism

Both employers and employees are affected by the experienced levels of absenteeism in the workplace.

Some fallout for employers include:

  • Decreased rate of productivity
  • Significant administration costs
  • Poor customer service due to understaffing
  • Loss of business due to customer dissatisfaction
  • Elevated labor costs, considering you hire replacement temporary workers
  • Low morale among the team, if the employees who are at work need to constantly fill in for the absent colleagues
  • More employee overtime and increased workload
  • Management frustration.

On the other hand, the consequences for the absent employees include:

  • Loss of pay for the time they are absent from work
  • Diminished productivity on their return to work, because they will need to catch up with everything
  • In the case of chronic absenteeism, the employee could even face dismissal

If we were to speak about the cost of absenteeism phenomenon, here are some troubling numbers:


Annual days lost due to absenteeism

Annual cost of absence to the economy


550 Million days

$300 billion


137 Million days

£18 billion


92 Million days

$33 billion

Also, the Workforce Institute informs that among hourly workers, the absenteeism cost is around $3,600 per worker per employer per year. While among salaried workers, the cost is around $2,650 per worker per employer per year.

The best tips to reduce absenteeism in the workplace

After fully understanding the causes of absenteeism your organization is experiencing, start designing a strategy to reduce it. Here are some tips:

Establish a clear attendance policy

Your attendance policy should contain clear rules and regulations and should set expectations. During the onboarding process, every new employee must be informed about this, and they must sign the policy, as an acknowledgment.

Designing a clear attendance policy will help your employees understand their role, their target and keep them organized. It’s also an important resource for you, as employers, in relation to what actions to take in case of repeated absences.

Try to be consistent and apply the policy to all attendance issues, regardless of which employee is involved.

Track the time-off of your employees

While it’s a great method to reduce absenteeism, make sure you don’t use it punitive, because it will create a bad vide among the team.

Tracking the time-off will ensure that every employee is treated the same and this gives a sense of fairness around the workplace. Also, it’s a way to track absenteeism in its early stages and correct it.

Provide moral support

If the cause of absenteeism is bereavement or a mental health problem, you should offer support both when the employee is absent and when he returns to work. This will make them feel more peaceful about returning to work

Offer and maintain a pleasant working environment

Make it a priority to offer your employees a workplace that creates a feeling of well-being. They should benefit from natural light as much as possible. Plus, you can add plants to the office decor and design ergonomic workstations. Back problems are one of the most common causes of absenteeism, so by providing ergonomic office chairs, you will be on the right track of reducing this awful phenomenon.

Design a system for rewarding good attendance

Employees enjoy feeling appreciated for a job well done. So, start rewarding the good or perfect attendance: with additional paid time-off, gift cards or use it as criteria for promotions.

Provide enhanced work-life balance and flexibility

If the schedule is extremely strict and the employee cannot take 2 hours to go to a doctor’s appointment, or if he has to work long hours, he is more likely to be absent from work. Consider limiting the overtime and be flexible in situations like a child’s appointment or something similar.

The role of the supervisor

In most companies, the supervisor is the one expected to manage employee absenteeism. This is because often supervisors are the first and possibly the only ones who are aware that a particular employee is absent.

The supervisors are the most eligible to understand the reasons someone skips work. They need to be supported by senior management in order to be able to manage attendance.

Therefore, supervisors will usually have the following responsibilities when it comes to dealing with employee absenteeism:

  • ensure shifts are covered
  • ensure employees are aware of the company’s policy regarding attendance and absence, preferably in the employee handbook
  • maintain accurate records related to the absences of their team
  • be the person informed when an employee calls in sick
  • identify any patterns of absences and
  • conduct disciplinary procedures where necessary.

In case of no call no show for some of your employees, you might be interested to check our analysis on the topic.

Before resorting to disciplinary action, supervisors should consider offering the employee a warning. It’s a good way of showing your organization believes in second chances. We suggest offering the warning in writing since it’s the professional way of doing this.

Here are 2 free templates you can use in case you have to deal with employees who miss work without permission or come in late.

Warning Letter For Absence

Download the warning letter for absence template in word

Free instant download. No email required.

Warning Letter For Late Comming

Download the warning letter for late comming in word

Free instant download. No email required.


There is no perfect and quick solution for abolishing employee absenteeism. But by taking into account and implementing our tips, unscheduled absences will be only the exception, not the rule. Don’t let it affect your employee engagement and company culture. Maybe you won’t have a solution for every attendance scenario, but you will be able to establish clear expectations for your staff and work every day on a strategy to diminish the absenteeism step by step.