There are plenty of valid reasons why an employee might have to miss work from time to time, from taking care of a sick family member to recovering from an illness or injury. Occasional absences aren’t necessarily a problem, and they may even be covered by your paid time off (PTO) or personal leave of absence policy.

But excessive absences can be a sign of low employee morale or engagement, and high absenteeism rates can have a major impact on your bottom line.

Here’s how to recognize patterns of absenteeism in the workplace and how you can improve employee attendance in five easy steps.

What Is Absenteeism in the Workplace?

Absenteeism occurs when an employee doesn’t show up to work on a day when they would ordinarily be expected to work. This can include anything from calling in sick to asking a colleague to swap shifts, or simply not showing up altogether.

Absenteeism is different from a leave of absence, which is usually planned in advance and approved by a manager. Still, the causes of absenteeism in the workplace can be similar to the reasons an employee might request a leave of absence, such as being sick, experiencing burnout, or dealing with family commitments.

Some of the most common types of absences include:

  • Approved absence: An approved absence is one that has been authorized by a manager, such as personal leave, holiday leave, or jury duty.
  • Unapproved absence: An unapproved or unexcused absence occurs when an employee doesn’t have permission to miss work but takes the day off anyway.
  • Unscheduled absence: An unplanned absence is one that hasn’t been planned in advance, such as a sick day. This may be either excused or unexcused.
  • Excessive absences: Chronic or excessive absenteeism is when an employee misses work habitually in a way that is neither approved nor reasonable.
  • Virtual absence: A virtual absence is when an employee shows up to the office — or online in the case of remote work — but doesn’t get anything done.

What Are the Impacts of Absenteeism in the Workplace?

Occasional absenteeism can be handled by adjusting schedules or work duties so an absent employee’s responsibilities can be covered. But frequent absences can lead to major impacts in the workplace, including low morale and lost productivity.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that “losses linked to absenteeism cost employers $225.8 billion annually in the United States, or $1,685 per employee.” The total costs of absenteeism include the administrative costs of absence management, along with factors like training and overtime pay for replacement workers.

An absence rate is a way of calculating employee absenteeism by dividing the number of absences by the total number of workdays. For example, an employee who is absent for five days out of 100 would have an absenteeism rate of 5%. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average absence rate across all industries is 3.6%.

Common Causes of Absenteeism in the Workplace

Before attempting to address the impact of absenteeism in the workplace, it’s important to understand the reasons behind employee absences. By identifying the root causes of absenteeism and providing incentives for employees to come into work, you can reduce the costs of absenteeism and boost employee engagement.

Here are five of the most common factors behind workplace absenteeism:

  • Illness or injury: Employees may not have enough sick leave or medical leave to cover every illness or injury, or they may need to take unplanned time off to deal with last-minute healthcare issues.
  • Personal issues: Employees may call in sick due to anxiety, stress, burnout, or other mental health issues arising from their work or home life.
  • Poor employee experience: A poor workplace experience, including low morale or a long commute, can lead employees to call in sick or spend time looking for another job when they’re supposed to be at work.
  • Workplace bullying: Workplace bullying can discourage team members from coming into work if nothing is done to address employee misconduct.
  • Family commitments: Employees may take time off for childcare, elder care, and other family commitments that can’t wait until after work hours.

5 Steps to Reduce Absenteeism in the Workplace

Absenteeism in the workplace: HR manager talking to an employee

If you discover a high rate of absenteeism in the workplace, or simply want to get ahead of any potential issues, follow these five steps to improve employee attendance.

1. Set expectations

First, set expectations with a clear attendance policy. This should include an explanation of what type of personal leave is available, how you calculate absences, and how much notice employers are expected to give before taking a day off. Remember to adhere to any state and federal leave laws like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Different rules may apply to full-time and part-time workers, but they should be applied fairly and consistently to avoid bias. When you have a clearly documented attendance policy, it’s easier for your human resources team to process leave requests and for managers to enforce personal leave policies.

2. Track leave balances

Next, track leave balances using absence management software. This makes it easy for you to keep a record of employee absences, monitor accrued sick leave and overtime pay, and identify any patterns that might point to chronic absenteeism.

It’s especially important to track more complex cases, such as FMLA intermittent leave, since unusual leave patterns can be evidence of FMLA fraud.

When you use a cloud-based leave management platform like Pulpstream, you’ll be able to provide a self-service portal where employees can view their leave balance, submit a leave of absence request, and submit any necessary documentation.

3. Address the root causes

If your absenteeism rate is higher than expected, that doesn’t mean your employees are purposely slacking off or taking advantage of your policies. There could be a mismatch between your expectations of them and their need for work-life balance.

Workplace bullying, mental health issues, and poor morale in the workplace are major drivers of employee absenteeism. Take steps to improve your work environment and offer incentives to come into work like paid meals or employee wellness programs.

4. Provide sufficient time-off

Allowing employees to take time off on a regular basis isn’t always bad for your bottom line. Some companies go so far as to offer unlimited vacation time because they know that employees who have time to rest and recharge are likely to perform better.

Consider offering paid parental leave for new parents, mental health leave for those struggling with stress or anxiety, and sabbaticals for career-track employees.

Another option is to offer a flexible or remote work policy, which can give employees more control over their schedule and improve their overall well-being.

5. Take disciplinary action

Creating a leave of absence policy only goes so far, and in some cases, you may have to take employee disciplinary action in order to enforce it. This could take the form of a performance improvement plan designed to address excessive absenteeism, or even docking the pay of a salaried employee for days they missed work.

Use standardized disciplinary action forms to maintain a consistent record and avoid bias, and address absenteeism as soon as it becomes a serious issue.

Track Employee Absenteeism With Pulpstream

Manager using a tablet

Absenteeism refers to the days or hours that an employee misses work when they’re expected to be present. HR professionals can mitigate absenteeism by addressing low employee morale and providing incentives for employees to come into work. They can also create a formal attendance policy and enforce it with disciplinary action.

Pulpstream empowers HR professionals to track planned and unplanned absences with our cloud-based leave management system. Allow employees to submit their own leave of absence requests, and track leave balances with our built-in dashboards. Best of all, our no-code interface means you don’t need any technical know-how to use it.

Request a demo today to see how you can streamline absence management.