Apart from maintaining productivity, managing conflicts, and meeting deadlines, HR managers also have to deal with the issue of chronic absenteeism. This “bottom-line-killer” has impacted the profitability of the companies and the availability of the workforce to a significant extent in the United States.

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What is Absenteeism?

In simple terms, the act of missing work often is called absenteeism. It goes beyond scheduled vacations, occasional sicknesses, and personal time off.

Absenteeism does not include the leaves that the manager has sanctioned and is more about a fixed pattern of missing work too often without any prior intimation.

The crux is that any unexcused absence from work without prior notice is called absenteeism. So, how much is too much? Unfortunately, there is no fixed percentage or number that can define excessive absenteeism.

The BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) studied the average absenteeism rate in the US. According to statistics, the absenteeism rate in the private sector was 2.8%. In contrast, it was 3.3% in the public sector.

In Europe, the average absenteeism rate ranges between 3% to 6%.

How to Measure Absenteeism?

Absenteeism is measured with the help of the absenteeism rate. There is an absenteeism rate formula that can help managers measure absenteeism in their organizations.

They need to divide the total number of absences in a year by the total number of working days in a given year. Then the quotient has to be multiplied by 100. The rate derived here is a crucial indicator of employee engagement.

A higher absenteeism rate indicates issues in the organizational culture and within the workforce. Also, this absenteeism rate formula remains the same for all industries.

What are the Causes of Employee Absenteeism?

Although most managers may think absenteeism is directly related to illness or sickness, the National Institutes of Health says otherwise. According to it, depression or lack of motivation are the primary causes of chronic absenteeism.

To support this statement, Morneau Shepell also revealed that over 52% of employee absenteeism in the US has nothing to do with illness. So let us see some of the significant factors that are triggering absenteeism:


Companies that have issues like harassment or bullying have a higher absenteeism rate. According to human psychology experts, such instances demotivate an employee to the extent that they can start skipping work to avoid their aggressor. HR should not take any sudden spike in an employee’s absenteeism rate lightly. Procrastinating on such issues can cost the organization considerably in the long run.


Employees who do not find their jobs exciting often skip coming to the office. It is called employee disengagement. It can be due to unfair treatment or lack of recognition from the manager. According to experts, most of the disengagement issues arise when the workers do not get their desired roles.

Low Workplace Morale

No employee would enjoy working for an organization where conflicts are rampant. Lack of respect, motivation, and flexibility can result in employee dissatisfaction. 

Family Care Issues

Employees who struggle to take care of their loved ones, especially kids and the elderly, can find it challenging to come to work every day. Apart from this, they also fail to give prior notice for taking leaves often. All these factors add to the chronic absenteeism rate in an organization.

Family Care issues leading to Absenteeism


Stress of any kind can impact an employee’s productivity and lead to unexplained absences. Employees who are working under extreme professional or personal pressure face frequent health issues. Moreover, they also have low morale and tend to quit without notice. HR can overcome this issue by implementing effective absence management solutions in the organization.

Employee Burnout

Working overtime or in extra shifts can lead to issues like burnout and emotional meltdown. HR managers should try to identify and mitigate these before it gets too late. 

Time Theft

Do you think that absenteeism means taking an entire day off from work? If yes, you might be wrong. Coming late to the office, leaving the office early, or taking unexplained long breaks between the working hours also come under absenteeism. Any manager who comes across the issue of time theft in their team should not take it lightly. They should immediately get in touch with the management to resolve this issue.

Lack of Flexibility

An employee who is habituated to work on his terms will resort to absenteeism if his freedom is snatched from him. According to experts, such employees tend to take leave without any prior notice. This situation also creates a sense of cynicism in the team and the organization as a whole.


Depression has become one of the significant causes of absenteeism in the US. According to research done by Yale, depression of any kind can make an employee miss their work frequently.

What are the Impacts of Absenteeism?

The management and the workforce must understand the implications of chronic absenteeism in an organization. Even a single day of missed work can impact an organization in several ways. How? Let us find out in this section:

Monetary Cost

According to a recent Forbes article, excessive absenteeism in the US costs around $3,600 annually for every hourly employee. On the other hand, the annual cost of absenteeism for salaried employees is around $2,650. Apart from this, employers also have to bear the administrative cost of unscheduled absences. This cost can add up significantly over time.

Low Productivity

When the workforce is resentful and stops meeting the deadlines, the organization’s overall productivity takes a hit. Furthermore, if this issue is left unattended, it can also lead to lower profit margins. Therefore, employers must understand the factors contributing to absenteeism and take steps accordingly.

Safety Issues

At times, management hires some temporary employees to fill in the responsibilities of absent employees. Lack of training and professional experience can cause mishaps at the workplace. This can harm the organization’s reputation.

Stressed Workforce

When some employees miss their work, other team members have to pick up that work in their stead. It can lead to a dissatisfied and stressed workforce. Moreover, this extra responsibility can also lead to mistakes and lower quality of work.

Low Employee Morale

Frequent absences can bring entire companies down. The rest of the staff may suffer from low morale when they see that they are not able to perform well due to the excessive leaves of other employees. 

Poor Output

The issue of frequent absences can also hamper the quality of output of an organization. It might also result in poor services, products, and customer care. It usually happens due to understaffing or employee fatigue.

The bottom line is, chronic absenteeism can have detrimental effects on an organization if left unchecked. It can harm the workforce and the organization in multiple ways.

What are the Strategies to Reduce Employee Absenteeism?

The right strategies implemented at the right time can help HR managers control chronic absenteeism. Here are some tried and tested techniques to reduce absenteeism at the workplace.

Flexible Schedules

Interestingly, over one-third of the employers in the US noted a significant drop in employee absenteeism after implementing flextime policies. Likewise, over 80% of the employees prefer flexible working schedules more than fixed schedules. HR managers should take cues from this data and consider coming up with better working schedules to curb absenteeism in the workplace.


Experts believe that treating the employees with incentives for showing up at work is a great way to control absenteeism. Incentives can be in different forms like gift cards, extra PTO, and so on.

Give a Nod to Remote Working

Do you know that only 7% of American workers prefer to work from the office? Employers who want to eliminate employee absenteeism should introduce remote working policies for their employees. It can be a win-win situation for both the employees and the organization.

Remote Work to Improve Absenteeism

Have an Absenteeism Policy

Every organization must have a full-fledged absenteeism policy for its employees. Having a clear leave policy can deter the employees from taking unplanned leaves.

Offer Paid Time Off

Providing enough sick leaves is a great way to reduce workplace absenteeism. It will also safeguard the other employees from infections that sick employees could spread. After the pandemic, we need to be more careful of illness spreading in the workforce for the sake of productivity and public health. 

Train HR

Along with employees, it is also crucial to train HR to deal with workplace absenteeism. To promote this, HR managers should be encouraged to be a part of the employee attendance improvement plan. Last but not least, managers can take the help of attendance management software to get meaningful data. They should also have an updated attendance chart with unexmplained absences to take action in time.

Rescheduling Responsibilities

One of the best ways to control workplace absenteeism is to ask the employees to delegate their duties. In other words, ask an employee to arrange for a backup plan in his absence. This process is overwhelming and cumbersome, compelling the employee to report to work themself unless the situation is truly dire.

Workplace Wellness Programs

The management should come forward to assist workers in maintaining their health and fitness. Conducting routine health checkups and wellness programs are some effective ways to help employees maintain their physical and mental health.

Return-to-Work Interview

Sitting down with the employee who came after a period of prolonged absence is a powerful tool to reduce employee absenteeism. It is a great way to greet the employee and understand their concerns. The managers must ensure that this process does not come across as a punitive or disciplinary measure.

Track Attendance

Employers can curb the issue of employee absenteeism by having an effective employee attendance tracking system. Employers can use its data to identify and track the employees who are frequently absent. 

Review Organizational Culture

Experts believe that absenteeism at the workplace often indicates an issue within the organization. HR should review the organizational culture and management practices to identify the trigger points. They should also suggest correction strategies to the management to control the issue.

Companies have to bear losses of billions of dollars every year due to employee absenteeism. Loss of productivity, wastage of time, and poor work output are some other fallouts of this pervasive issue.

Diligent employees are often left overburdened with extra tasks. This gives rise to workplace conflicts, lack of trust, and low morale among the employees.  

Occasional absences are inevitable. But chronic absenteeism can cost both the employees and the organization in the long run. Thus, it is beneficial for businesses to create effective absence management strategies to track, control, and respond to it.