Absenteeism occurs when an employee is regularly absent from their work without explanation, outside of what is expected or acceptable in terms of their annual leave and vacations, sick days or personal matters. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. annual average absence rate for 2021 was 3.2%. The rate was 3.1% for the private sector, while for the public sector the rate was 3.5%.

Employees can be absent from work for a number of legitimate reasons, however, missing work can present problems for an organization when an employee is repeatedly absent, especially when they are still being paid. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) productivity losses linked to absenteeism cost employers $225.8 billion per year in the U.S., or $1,685 per employee.

Some of the reasons for absenteeism include stress and burnout, workplace bullying or harassment, depression, caregiving, illness and injury, and job-hunting. By implementing absence management software such as a hotline for employee call-offs, organizations can remove the need for tracking attendance manually, understand the reasons for an employee’s absence as well as identify excessive absenteeism sooner.

It is clear that absenteeism matters, and we will explore some strategies organizations can adopt to reduce their absenteeism rate below.

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Increased Workplace Flexibility

Oftentimes, an employee’s absenteeism could be avoided by their employer putting in place flexible work arrangements that allow them to do their job and manage any personal matters that may arise.  For instance, parents who are regularly absent from work due to childcare issues may benefit greatly from flexible working hours, the choice to leave earlier or arrive later, or the option to work remotely from home.  

Whether it’s taking care of children or elderly relatives, running errands or tending to household-related matters,  working from home can enable employees to balance their family and life duties alongside their work without having to take unscheduled time off.

By adopting greater flexibility into how people work, employers can eliminate many of the reasons why their employees may take a day off, thereby countering unnecessary absenteeism while improving employee work-life balance. This can lead to a reduction in employee stress, burnout and attrition while increasing productivity, morale and retention.

Employee Well-Being and Work Culture

Employers can do much for productivity levels and employee presence at work by creating programs centered around the health and wellness of their staff. Such initiatives could include team-building exercises, workplace events, meditation or break-out rooms, lunchtime yoga classes as well as relevant newsletters and resources.

Employees should also feel they have someone to talk to regarding issues such as workplace bullying, harassment or anything else that is negatively impacting their mental health and desire to be at work. Having such a service in place can do much to make employees feel supported and safe to air their grievances confidentially while reducing the need for them to take unscheduled time off work.

Fostering a sense of belonging and inclusivity is key to employee satisfaction. Ensuring your workplace is a warm and friendly place where employees are happy to spend their time means building a culture that encourages well-being.  A happier and healthier workforce can reduce absences due to sickness or depression, while a more positive workplace culture can increase employee engagement and morale.

Employee Engagement

With many businesses forced to do more with fewer resources, employees can easily feel overworked and undervalued. Acknowledging the efforts of employees can go a long way in making them feel valued and appreciated. This is essential for an organization’s productivity and success and can do much to counter the feeling of disengagement and absenteeism at work.

The more engaged and motivated employees are about their work the more likely they are to show up. Whether it’s greater freedom and autonomy to manage their own tasks, better training or more meaningful work, employers must give thought to ways of improving employee engagement if they are to reduce absenteeism in their workplace.

By rewarding and incentivizing employees for their attendance at work, employees can feel their presence is appreciated and are more likely to be motivated and engaged with their work.

Return to Work Interviews

Employees can sometimes require prolonged periods of leave for reasons such as maternity, medical reasons or bereavement. They may often find the adjustment of being back at work difficult resulting in loss of interest and disengagement with their duties.

A return to work interview gives employers the chance to assess whether an employee is fit to return to work and resume their role or whether they need more time off.  Likewise, employees are given an opportunity to express any concerns or needs they may have, helping employers take appropriate action to accommodate them and make their transition back to work smoother.

Reach Out to Employees 

There is often a good reason why employees are absent from work. Adopting a more human approach to the issue which shows concern for the individual and any extenuating circumstances they may be facing can make a positive difference.

By reaching out to employees that are regularly absent from work, employers can gain a better understanding as to the reasons why this is happening and in certain situations help the employee manage or overcome them such as supporting employees with health problems.

Informal and confidential, one-to-one meetings with a line manager or HR professional may help an employee open up about any personal issues they may be facing such as illness, divorce or caring for a sick relative, as well as sensitive matters relating to work. This may include harassment, discrimination or feeling bullied or excluded at work.

To facilitate such meetings, managers and supervisors should be given the proper training needed to deal with an employee’s regular absence from work.  This could include relational training which helps to develop skills such as active listening, empathy, patience and trust making it easier for managers to conduct difficult or upsetting conversations with employees in a way they feel heard.

Treating employees in this way can also help strengthen an organization’s relationship with its staff, letting them know they are essential and valued members of the business.

By taking the steps mentioned in this article, employers can support their employees, helping them to feel engaged and comfortable in their workplace environment. These factors can do much to reduce the problem of absenteeism, benefiting both parties in the long run.