People Management

What Is Absenteeism and How Can My Business Address It?

Absenteeism goes beyond missing a few days here and there—it’s about habitually skipping work. It’s usually a sign of a more significant issue, like a disengaged workforce, problems in the company culture, or ineffective HR disciplinary procedures. Here are the common causes of absenteeism, how to calculate it, and strategies for addressing it.


  • Excessive absenteeism can significantly impact business operations.
  • Understanding the different types of absenteeism can help your company develop targeted strategies.
  • Monitoring absenteeism rates can help your growing business address it proactively.
  • Effective communication is key to addressing absenteeism.

What Is Absenteeism?

Absenteeism refers to the frequent or prolonged absence of employees from work extending beyond the normal allocated time for sick leave, personal days, or vacation. Generally, absenteeism implies a deliberate decision to skip work, often to avoid responsibilities or engage in social activities.  

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Types of Absenteeism

Understanding the different types of absenteeism can help your company manage and address the underlying causes of attendance issues. 

Unauthorized Absenteeism

Absenteeism generally involves unannounced absences that occur without approval from the employer. 

For instance, coffee badging occurs when an employee attends work briefly and makes an appearance, giving the impression of being present for the entire workday. 

Sick leave abuse is another type of unauthorized absence. It typically involves feigning illness to take last-minute personal days off without using vacation time.

Finally, no-shows occur when employees fail to attend work and inform their employer. Employees are essentially “playing hooky” from work and do not follow the company’s procedures for reporting these absences, such as notifying their supervisors or providing the required documentation. 

Chronic Absenteeism 

Absenteeism is also characterized by prolonged or repeated absences. Insight into the nature of an employee’s chronic absences can help your company effectively manage and tackle the root cause of their attendance problems. 

When absenteeism manifests as an extended period of back-to-back absences, for instance, it can often indicate that an employee is experiencing a mental health issue or personal crisis. 

These absences are often legitimate and necessary, but the employee fails to follow proper protocol for notifying the employer and requesting time off. This leaves the employer scrambling to cover the employee’s responsibilities. 

Chronic absenteeism, manifesting as a repeated pattern of frequent but not consecutive absences, often represents a disregard for the employer. Employees engaging in this type of absenteeism might not value their jobs or think they will face serious consequences for skipping work.

The Impact of Absenteeism

The ramifications of absenteeism extend beyond disruption to the individual employee’s job. 

Increased Costs

Employers often incur additional costs to compensate absent employees: They pay overtime for other employees to cover shifts, hire temporary staff, or outsource tasks to external vendors. These expenses can escalate rapidly, especially in industries in which labor costs are significant or specialized skills are required.

If these increased costs persist, unchecked absenteeism can contribute to inflated operational costs, adversely affecting the bottom line and impeding the organization’s financial stability and sustainability over time.

Low Morale

Excessive absenteeism can create feelings of resentment, frustration, and disillusionment among employees if they are forced to shoulder additional responsibilities or cover for absent colleagues. This sense of imbalance and inequity can breed discontent, resenteeism, and erode morale, leading to decreased engagement, motivation, and job satisfaction.

Quality Issues

Employee absences can leave tasks unfinished, causing workflow bottlenecks and delaying projects. Prolonged absences may also lead to gaps in quality control and oversight. When tasks are rushed or handed to undertrained staff, errors and subpar performance are likelier to lower work quality and customer satisfaction and harm the organization’s employer branding.

Common Causes of Absenteeism

Understanding the underlying causes of absenteeism and taking the initiative to proactively address it can help your company devise effective strategies to mitigate it. 

Bad Hires

Some employees lack the personal ethics to commit to and prioritize job responsibilities. 

Bad hires happen. Sometimes, job candidates show their best selves during the interview phase but fail to bring their best selves to work. 

To combat bad hires, companies can focus on the best practices for finding great talent. Specifically, they can focus on the interpersonal skills necessary for highly enthusiastic and engaged employees.  


Employees dissatisfied with their job roles, responsibilities, or working conditions may be more inclined to take time off. These disengaged employees are likelier to skip work in favor of social opportunities.

Environment and Culture

High-pressure work environments, unrealistic deadlines, and excessive workloads can contribute to stress and burnout. This work-life imbalance can lead to heightened stress and fatigue, increasing the likelihood of absenteeism.

If these pressures are accompanied by a lack of supportive measures (e.g., telecommuting options, flexible hours, or employee assistance programs), companies may experience higher absenteeism rates.

Likewise, interpersonal conflicts, harassment, or bullying can create a hostile work environment, prompting employees to avoid coming to work. 

Inconsistent or Ineffective Policies and Procedures

A company’s inability to consistently apply company policies can inadvertently create a culture of leniency. Employees who perceive no (or minimal) consequences for unexcused absences may feel less compelled to adhere to attendance expectations.

Conversely, when employees know that unexcused absences are treated seriously and carry consequences, they’re more likely to prioritize attendance and diligently fulfill their job responsibilities. Clear and consistently enforced policies create a sense of accountability, fostering a work environment where employees understand the importance of attendance and are motivated to fulfill their obligations. 

What Is Considered Excessive Absenteeism?

Excessive absenteeism is typically defined as a pattern of frequent or prolonged absences that disrupt workflow and productivity. 

Employers are encouraged to establish their own guidelines to determine what is considered excessive absenteeism based on company policies and industry standards. 

That said, the absenteeism rate formula can help them measure their company’s success (or obstacles) in reducing absenteeism.

Absenteeism Rate Formula

You can calculate an employee’s absenteeism rate by dividing the number of days absent by the total number of workdays. Multiply this number by 100 to convert it into a percentage. Your company’s absenteeism rate can be calculated by dividing your entire workforce’s absences by the total workdays and multiplying this by 100.

Absenteeism Rate = (Total Days Absent/Total Workdays) x 100

EmployeeDays AbsentTotal Workdays Absenteeism Rate
Company Absenteeism Rate:541,3004.2%

What Constitutes a Good Absenteeism Rate? 

Your company’s target absenteeism rate depends on your industry. For instance, healthcare and construction companies often have higher absenteeism rates due to the physical demands and potential for job-related illnesses or injuries. Tech companies often have lower rates of absenteeism due to the flexible nature of the jobs within this industry. 

Here are general benchmarks:

Less than 1.5%: ExcellentThis indicates strong employee engagement, effective health and wellness programs, and a good work environment.
1.5% to 3%: GoodA rate in the 1.5% to 3% range is generally acceptable for many industries.
3% to 4%: ModerateThis may indicate some underlying issues that could be addressed to improve employee attendance.
Above 4%: Needs ImprovementThis is typically considered an excessive absenteeism rate. It could suggest significant issues with employee satisfaction, health, workplace culture, or management practices.

How to Address Absenteeism

Tackling absenteeism requires a comprehensive approach that includes empathy and commitment to enforcing boundaries. Your company can lower its absenteeism rate by boosting its wellness initiatives, nurturing its employees, and cultivating employee engagement while setting and enforcing clear policies and corrective actions. 

Here is a four-part plan to address absenteeism.

1. Encourage Open Communication

Employees might not share the reasons for their absences due to fear of judgment. Encourage open discussions about their challenges to understand the root causes, whether it’s job stress, workplace conflicts, or disengagement. Together, you can explore solutions like adjusting job demands or shifting responsibilities. This collaborative approach empowers employees to express their concerns and work toward solutions.

If an employee discloses a health-related issue, you can provide support by pointing them toward resources like an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), mental health time off, or health insurance benefits. Also, companies are obligated under specific circumstances, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), to support employees facing health challenges.

2. Monitor and Track Attendance

Regularly monitoring and tracking attendance patterns is a proactive strategy that can help manage absenteeism effectively.

 By analyzing these patterns, you can identify trends or recurring issues that may indicate underlying problems, such as job dissatisfaction, personal challenges, workplace conflict, or toxic leadership within a department.

3. Establish Clear Attendance Policies

Developing clear attendance policies and setting explicit expectations is essential for running a business. Ensure all employees know these policies during onboarding and in the employee handbook, and conduct regular reviews for clarity and compliance.

Remember, policies should detail absence reporting procedures, acceptable reasons for leave, consequences for unauthorized absences, and the process for requesting time off. Clear expectations and consequences help discourage policy abuse and promote a professional, reliable workplace environment.

4. Implement Disciplinary Protocol When Necessary

At times, disciplinary action, for instance, a correct action like a performance improvement plan, warning notices—and even termination—might be warranted. Although this can be an unpleasant part of management, implementing firm and consistent boundaries is essential for maintaining organizational integrity, ensuring fairness, and fostering a workplace culture of accountability and respect.

Remember, disciplinary measures are most effective when they provide employees with clear guidance on proactively addressing the situation. 

Wize Words

Tackling absenteeism is about striking the right balance. Employers can make a big difference by understanding the root causes of absences, clearly communicating attendance rules, and fostering a supportive environment.

With these proactive measures, growing businesses can boost productivity, keep employees happier, and ensure the organization runs smoothly and efficiently.


  • Jocelyn Baker

    Jocelyn Baker is a freelance writer, an editor, and a former political reporter who specializes in business management. She has written thousands of articles and edited dozens of books about recruitment, leadership, and governance. She focuses on simplifying complex topics into implementable strategies.

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The article was reviewed by Marisa Ramirez

Jocelyn Baker

Jocelyn Baker is a freelance writer, an editor, and a former political reporter who specializes in business management. She has written thousands of articles and edited dozens of books about recruitment, leadership, and governance. She focuses on simplifying complex topics into implementable strategies.

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