A killer town surf swell, no one to watch the kids on a day off from school, a bad flu bug going around—there are many causes of employee absenteeism. Some are unavoidable and to be expected, some may be preventable, and others are just completely unacceptable.
Regardless of the reason, all employee absences cost employers money and impact workplace productivity. It can be devastating for a business if it becomes a pattern. But it doesn’t have to be.
It’s impossible to prevent every emergency or account for every personality, but you can encourage a more conscientious crew. “If you have an attendance and tardiness policy clearly stated, it’s one of the easiest policies to enforce,” says Alleane Alley of simplicityHR’s Kailua-Kona office.
What is employee absenteeism?
Simply put, employee absenteeism is when an employee is not present for work. This includes both excused and unexcused absences of any length—full days, tardy arrivals, extended breaks, and early departures.
Causes of employee absenteeism fall into two broad categories.
- No-fault absenteeism: Also called non-culpable or innocent absenteeism; refers to causes of absence that are beyond the worker’s control, such as illness or injury, military duty, jury duty, natural disasters, and other emergencies.
- At-fault absenteeism: Also called culpable or blameworthy absenteeism; refers to causes of absence that are unexcused, unexplained, habitual, and/or otherwise beyond what is allowed by workplace policy.
Common causes of employee absenteeism
There are many potential root causes of absenteeism and habitual lateness, from emergencies to inconsiderate personalities. It is important to understand the root cause of an employee’s absence in order to select the most appropriate course of action.
These are the most common forms of employee absenteeism:
- Health issues. Illness and injury are the most common reasons employees call out of work. Health-related absences are to be expected. Company policy should address how and when employees need to notify employers, when a notice from a medical professional is required, and how many days can be taken paid or unpaid.
- Mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues impact a huge percentage of the population. Mental health issues are frequently misunderstood and challenging to navigate with regard to workplace absence. Note that some mental health conditions may be covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA).
- Family caregiving responsibilities. Employees often need to take time to provide care for a spouse, child, aging parent, or another family member. These types of absences are part of life and the more you can do to make them manageable for employees (PTO, flex time), the better.
- Stress. Stress, especially chronic, or long-term stress, impacts both physical and mental health, making it an underlying factor in many cases of absenteeism.
- Disengagement. Studies have shown that people who are dissatisfied with their jobs are absent more frequently. Bad managers, lack of growth opportunities, negative workplace culture, and low morale all are potential culprits to cause employee disengagement.
- Harassment. Serious issues such as bullying or harassment in the workplace are an often overlooked cause of employee absenteeism.
- Unreliable behavior. Employers across the country are encountering more instances of ghosting—when an employee just stops showing up without notice or contact.
Depending on the cause of absence, employers may be subject to various legal compliance issues. Chief among them are health and caretaking-related absences that may have protection under the Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA), the Hawaii Family Leave Law (HFLL), and/or the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA).
Costs and impacts of employee absenteeism
There are two ways employee absenteeism costs and impacts a business.
- Direct: An absent employee has a direct impact on productivity and sales which the Center for Disease Control estimates can cost a company around $1,685 a year per employee. If you have 100 employees, that’s roughly $168,500 per year. (Source)
- Indirect: An absent employee can drag down the morale of other employees who shoulder the burden of working short-staffed. Over time this diminishes morale and contributes to higher turnover. Factor in time spent recruiting, hiring, scheduling, and retraining employees to replace your burned-out employees, and you have a revolving cycle that can drain your business’s resources.
How to address employee absenteeism
Whether you are a small team or a large enterprise, there are a few key steps every employer can take to address and discourage absenteeism.
- Set an attendance policy and enforce it consistently. A good attendance policy should address the consequences of regular or excessive employee absenteeism. Your policy should also be applied consistently throughout the entire company. For example, if one employee is reprimanded for being tardy, the same consequence should be applied to another employee who is tardy.
- Track employee absences. Accurate record-keeping is essential for managing attendance issues. Whether it’s an actual time clock, notes on the shift schedule, a spreadsheet, or a time clock app, the record helps identify patterns of scheduled and unscheduled absences so you’ll be covered if an issue arises.
- Address unscheduled absences immediately. Once the employee returns to work, have a conversation about what happened and why, and what is expected in the future. By understanding the cause of the absence, you can make a proper determination on the best course of action.
- Take appropriate measures. Does the employee’s absence merit a warning or other disciplinary measures? If a change in schedule is operationally feasible, would it help the situation? Would a performance improvement plan be appropriate? Use your documentation as evidence for the required action. Be mindful of situations where legal compliance issues may apply (FMLA, HFLL, etc.).
- Show appreciation for reliable employees. Employee appreciation is more important than ever for retaining employees in a tight job market. Just saying thanks or giving a small gift is an easy way to reward employees who are present and timely, build loyalty, and encourage better attendance.
“Note that any disciplinary action, verbal or written, should be handled privately, away from other employees and/or customers,” reminds Alley. “Any information related to disciplinary action should be considered confidential.”
Technology is key in tracking employee attendance
Good attendance data empowers employers in many ways. Of course, it’s essential to accurately track hours for payroll, but accurate attendance reporting helps managers identify employee attendance trends and take appropriate action.
Documentation on chronically absent employees can help guide employee management decisions. By identifying longer-term trends in absenteeism such as record numbers of missed days on so-called Super Bowl Monday̬ employers can mitigate the impact of workers calling out.
With accurate employee attendance reporting, business owners are better able to understand their own labor needs, as well as the impact of absenteeism on their company.
Customers of simplicityHR by ALTRES have access to a state-of-the-art human resources information system called HR Symphony. HR Symphony boasts comprehensive time and attendance features including online scheduling, time off requests, integration with various tracking systems, employee self-service capabilities, and a mobile app to do it all on the go. Additionally, the software provides instant reports and analytics that turn your data into intelligence to inform your decision-making.