HomeKnowledge BaseAWhat Is Absenteeism? Definition, Causes, and Costs for Business

What Is Absenteeism? Definition, Causes, and Costs for Business

What Is Absenteeism?

Absenteeism is a term used to describe the habitual or frequent absence of an employee from work, beyond what is considered normal or acceptable. It is generally defined as any failure to report to or remain at work as scheduled, whether it is planned or unplanned. Absenteeism can be caused by various factors, such as illness, personal or family emergencies, burnout, job dissatisfaction, harassment, or even intentional reasons. The impact of absenteeism can be significant, affecting productivity, team morale, and company finances.

Types and Main Causes of Absenteeism

Let’s consider the types of absenteeism and its main causes:

  • Bereavement Absenteeism: This type of absenteeism occurs when an employee takes time off work to deal with the death of a family member. It is generally unplanned but approved by the employer. 
  • Commuting Issues Absenteeism: With unreliable transport systems, many employees often miss hours of work, leading to absenteeism. 
  • Sabbaticals Absenteeism: Sabbaticals are a planned and approved long break from work that employees take to upskill, travel, volunteer, or study. 
  • Culpable Absenteeism: This is when the employee skips work and fails to give a reasonable justification for having done so. It can be a result of personal or work-related issues.
  • Minor Illness Absenteeism: This is when an employee misses work due to a minor illness, such as a cold or flu.
  • Team and Management Issues Absenteeism: Management and team issues can be a major cause of absenteeism. Poor communication, harassment, or lack of motivation can all contribute to employees not showing up for work. 
  • COVID-19 Related Absenteeism: The pandemic has caused a significant increase in absenteeism, with employees either taking time off due to illness or to care for family members.
  • Unplanned Absenteeism: This type of absenteeism occurs when an employee does not show up for work and does not provide any notice or reason for the absence.

Addressing the causes of absenteeism is crucial for employers to reduce the impact it has on the organization.

The Cost of Absenteeism For Business

Absenteeism can have a significant cost to businesses. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that depression alone causes an estimated 200 million lost workdays per year, costing businesses between $17 billion to $44 billion. Other common causes of absenteeism include workplace harassment, chronic medical issues, and family issues. The cost of absenteeism varies depending on the industry and occupation. For example, the professional sectors and managers/executives are among the most affected, with estimated costs of $24.2 billion and $15.7 billion per year, respectively. On the other hand, physicians and farmers have lower costs of absenteeism, estimated at $0.25 and $0.16 billion, respectively. 

How to Reduce Absenteeism?

To reduce the cost of absenteeism, businesses can implement policies that promote work-life balance, offer employee wellness programs, and provide support for mental health issues. Here are some steps every organisation should follow to reduce absenteeism at the workspace:

  • Develop and implement an up-to-date absence policy that clearly outlines the rules and expectations regarding attendance and absenteeism. 
  • Improve employee well-being by providing wellness programs, such as exercise classes, meditation sessions, and healthy food options. 
  • Create a positive and supportive work environment that promotes work-life balance and job satisfaction.
  • Encourage employee engagement by providing opportunities for professional development, team building, and social activities. 
  • Reward good attendance and provide employee support when necessary. Improve employee morale with recognition, appreciation, and gratitude. 
  • Provide employees with the tools and resources they need to perform their jobs effectively and efficiently. 
  • Provide regular feedback and guidance to employees to help them improve their performance and encourage them to take ownership of their work. 
  • Hold employees accountable for their attendance and provide consequences for excessive absenteeism. 
  • Conduct regular surveys or focus groups to identify any underlying issues that may be contributing to absenteeism and take action to address them.

In conclusion, absenteeism is a significant challenge for organizations and businesses, causing decreased productivity, increased costs, and disruptions in work processes. The causes of absenteeism are varied and can range from physical and mental health issues to a lack of employee engagement and motivation. However, there are effective strategies that companies can implement to reduce absenteeism, such as improving workplace culture and communication, implementing flexible work arrangements, and offering employee wellness programs. By addressing the root causes of absenteeism and implementing proactive measures, companies can create a more positive and productive work environment that benefits both employees and the bottom line.


What is not considered absenteeism?

Absenteeism does not include vacation, personal leave, jury-duty leave, or other approved reasons for absence.

Who is vulnerable to absenteeism?

Psychologists and sociologists suggest that the younger generation is more prone to absenteeism due to their restlessness and lack of perseverance. As people age, they tend to value work more. Additionally, women may experience increased absenteeism due to family-related distractions.

What is chronic work absence? 

Chronic work absence refers to an employee being regularly absent without permission from their employer, disrupting the business's day-to-day operations. The most common reasons include harassment, mental health issues (e.g., stress, depression, burnout), lack of motivation or challenge at work, and personal issues.

How is absenteeism measured in the workplace?

Absenteeism in the workplace is commonly measured using an absenteeism rate, which calculates the ratio of absences to the total number of workdays.

How can I address excessive absenteeism with an employee?

To address excessive absenteeism with an employee, clearly communicate attendance policies and absence procedures, use your employee handbook as a reference, and have a respectful, open, and honest conversation with the employee about their absences.

What can I do if an employee's reason for absence is unacceptable?

If an employee's reason for absenteeism is unacceptable, issue a written warning and make the warning valid for 12 months. Keeping records is vital in case the employee becomes a habitual absentee and needs to be dismissed in the future.

How can I train managers or supervisors to recognize absenteeism?

Provide training to managers or supervisors and other employees to recognize absenteeism early and implement strategies to minimize absenteeism in your business.

How can I write a good absence excuse letter?

When writing an absence excuse letter, ensure the reason is legitimate (e.g., illness, family emergency, bereavement, home emergency, or child care emergency), provide specific details about the absence, and follow your company's policies for requesting time off.

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