Absenteeism at work: definition, causes and solutions

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Absenteeism is when certain individuals in a team have low attendance rates. This can adversely impact the morale and productivity of the rest of the team. If you're a team leader or manager, understanding absence and how to handle it can be useful. In this article, we explain what absenteeism is, some of its common causes, how you can address it and the benefits of doing so.

What is absenteeism?

Absenteeism is when individuals have low attendance rates, typically without valid reasons. This could be consistently arriving late to work, frequently leaving early, calling in sick when they're not, missing shifts entirely without explanation or temporarily stepping out of the workplace unannounced. The result is lower overall attendance and contribution to work, which can cause other team members to take on additional workloads to compensate for the absence. A key aspect of absence is that it's typically either unjustified or unexplained, meaning that the individual hasn't completed all of their tasks or lacks permission to be absent.

What are the causes of absences?

Consistent absences from the workplace can result from various causes, some of which are as follows:

Lack of communication

In many cases, this kind of absence is completely unannounced. Even if the individual does announce it, they may do so very late or after they've been absent for some time. This can make it difficult for team leaders and colleagues to plan ahead for their absence. The individual in question might assume that they're allowed to be partially or wholly absent, although they'd understand that this isn't the case if they communicated their intentions. Alternatively, the frequent absences could be because the organisation hasn't clearly communicated its attendance policy, causing some individuals to misunderstand it.

Related: Why is communication important? (And how to improve it)

Work ethic

Some individuals might have a poor work ethic compared to others. This means that they're not serious about their responsibilities, lack concern about how their actions impact others or take advantage of flexible or lenient workplace rules. Individuals who behave like this can have an adverse effect on the morale of their colleagues, as the latter often compensate for the individual's absences by taking on some of their duties or unfinished tasks.

Lack of motivation

In many cases, individuals might be frequently absent due to a lack of motivation. The causes of this could be stress, personal problems, workplace issues like excessive workloads or mental conditions like depression. Individuals who encounter one of these causes may be reluctant to talk about the reasons for their absences, either due to the matter being personal in nature or because the work atmosphere discourages openness.

Related: Using motivation in management to help your team succeed

Illness or injury

Some people may suffer from ongoing illnesses or injuries which can frequently prevent them from going to work or cause them to leave early. Just like motivation issues, this is not the fault of the individual and is a separate problem that requires addressing. Certain individuals may not wish to disclose their medical situation for personal or other reasons, which can lead to ostensibly unjustified absences. It's typically a requirement for employers to make the workplace accessible for individuals with long-lasting conditions, and absences might indicate that the individual in question doesn't feel like this accessibility exists.

Unpleasant office culture

Some members of a team might want to avoid work because they dislike the culture in the office. In extreme cases, this could result in bullying or harassment. If the individual in question doesn't feel like they can speak to someone about addressing this issue, they may keep the information to themselves and regularly be absent to avoid certain colleagues or situations in the workplace.

Related: I hate my job: how and when should I quit?

Other work

In some instances, frequent absences could be because the individual has other jobs. They may attempt to balance multiple occupations, which could result in overlapping shifts. This could cause periodic absences which they don't want to explain. The reasons for this could be that they find the compensation of the primary job inadequate, but don't want to risk informing their team or manager about their other employment. Additionally, their attempt to balance multiple jobs could cause them stress, which can lower their motivation and energy. This might lead to further absences due to burnout.

How to deal with absences

If you're experiencing frequent absences among your team, consider some of the steps below to address the situation:

1. Formulate a clear attendance policy

To solve any miscommunication or misunderstandings, a clear attendance policy is a good first step. Another way of ensuring that employees adhere to it is to get their input prior to implementing it. Consider speaking with your team about their workload, the timing of shifts and possibilities like remote work. The latter can be quite useful if certain individuals have responsibilities at home, have a long commute to work or periodically feel stressed. You could consider rotating it so that at least half the team is always present in the office.

Related: What are acceptable excuses to miss work? (With tips)

2. Speak to the individuals in question

Speaking to the individuals in question can allow you to find out the causes of their absences. The best way to do this is in private, and you can assure them that what they tell you is going to be confidential to help them feel comfortable. Doing so could encourage them to open up about what's happening. You might discover that there are legitimate reasons for their absences. If these reasons are possible for you to address, you can then take steps to solve them.

Alternatively, you might discover that there are no valid reasons for the absences. The individual might be unaware that their absences were noticeable or caused issues at work. Speaking to them in private can therefore be an opportunity to inform them that their absence is noticeable and requires addressing. You can give them a warning in private prior to taking any disciplinary steps, and doing so in private might make them more receptive to your feedback.

3. Apply the attendance rules

Once you've identified the causes of the absences and formulated new attendance rules, it's important that you enforce them. A good way of doing this is combining rewards for consistent attendance and penalties for unjustified absences. This can encourage team members to be more regular in their work attendance and discourage absences. An important aspect of this is being consistent in your enforcement of these rules, while also reassuring team members that they can speak to you if there are any issues that prevent their attendance.

4. Promote a healthy office culture

A good way of reducing unnecessary absences is by promoting a healthy and positive workplace culture. This can make work more enjoyable for your team and encourage them to come to work. There are various aspects to positive office culture, including supportiveness, collaboration, transparency, rewarding effort, communication and respect for work-life balance. You could implement fun team-building activities, take the team out for lunch or encourage regular feedback.

Another way to improve morale at the office is to raise awareness of issues like stress, depression and anxiety. You could do this with regular discussions, invite an expert to give a talk or distribute useful information. Encouraging team members to be supportive of each other and open about their issues can further promote a healthy workplace culture.

Related: What is workplace culture, and what are its characteristics?

Benefits of reducing absence

Here are some of the major benefits of reducing in-work absences among your team members:

  • Increased motivation: If your team experiences absences from certain members, this can decrease their motivation or cause resentment because they might cover additional work tasks. By ensuring that attendance is regularly high, you can increase overall motivation.

  • Higher productivity: Regular absences can decrease your team's overall productivity due to the lower number of total working hours. By encouraging attendance, you increase total working hours and thereby improve your team's productivity.

  • Better working environment: Encouraging a healthy office culture can increase attendance, but attendance can also contribute to this positive culture. When unjustified absences are minimal, there's more collaboration and respect among team members, which positively impacts the working environment.


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