Do you have team members who miss work without notifying anyone? If so, you might be struggling with an employee absenteeism problem. Absenteeism is when a person skips or leaves work without approval or permission from their employer. Reducing absenteeism is important because it negatively impacts organizations. One of the most significant repercussions of absenteeism is productivity and profitability losses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that this problem costs U.S. employers $225.8 billion annually, which averages out to about $1,685 per employee.
Aside from profit losses, absenteeism also creates workplace conflict. First, it forces present team members to pick up others’ slack without any advanced notification. This impacts employees’ work-life balance and work burnout levels. When employee attendance is derailed, it’s also a burden on leaders. Executives need present employees so they can meet deadlines, launch projects, implement business strategies, and achieve the organization’s mission. Adding more work to other people’s plates can lower team morale and cause resentment. It can also put leaders in a hiring bind if the employee never shows up again. Undoubtedly, absence from work is a serious problem that is detrimental to work relationships and businesses.
In order to make unapproved time off from work an infrequent occurrence, companies must establish absenteeism policies. Leaders must also openly communicate with workers and hold them accountable to these standards. Get started attacking absenteeism in your business by learning more about what it is, why it’s important to eliminate it, what rights you have as an employer, and the top five tips for eradicating employee absences.
What is Absenteeism?
Absenteeism is when an employee misses hours or days of work without approval or a viable excuse. Unlike taking paid time off (PTO) or unlimited PTO, these missing team members don’t communicate they want to schedule time off. This is also not the same as calling in sick or missing work due to a family emergency. Again, with employee absenteeism, there is a lack of communication between the employee and their employer. Instead, they skip work without permission. While an absent employee might address why they weren’t present, it isn’t within a reasonable timeframe. For example, this might look like informing their manager they are sick at 6:30 p.m. instead of 7:30 a.m.
Other examples of absenteeism include:
- Missing the Monday morning team meeting with no explanations or reasons for the absence
- Skipping a whole day of work without receiving permission
- Abruptly departing the office at 12:00 p.m. without approval
- Being unresponsive to messages and emails, not joining scheduled group video meetings, or a noticeable lack of project completion (for remote teams)
- Permanently leaving the company without officially resigning
What is a Good Absenteeism Rate?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average nationwide absenteeism rate is three percent. However, BLS reports 1.3 percent of absenteeism is caused by illness or injury. For this reason, a “good” absenteeism rate is any number lower than 1.7 percent. Employee attendance below this percentage could result in serious organizational problems.
To determine absenteeism rates:
- Divide the number of unapproved absences by the number of workdays in a month. For instance, this might look like: “Five absences divided by 23 workdays.”
- Calculate the quotient. In this example, it is .22.
- Multiply the quotient by 100 to get your employee absenteeism percentage. In this case, the absenteeism rate is 22 percent—much higher than the 1.7 percent target.
This formula works for tallying the absenteeism rate for individual employees and also the collective team. In addition to this, the same can be done for the entire year by tallying up the total number of days missed per annum and dividing them by the number of workdays in a year. Make sure to subtract PTO days and holidays from this equation before calculating the absenteeism rate.
Why Does Lowering Employee Absenteeism Rates Matter?
Employee absenteeism rates speak volumes about a business. For instance, if a large number of people skip work, this is usually a sign of overworked staff members. When this happens, mistakes get made, productivity suffers, and employees’ well-being, including mental health, gets put in jeopardy. This creates a domino effect of apathetic, unmotivated workers who don’t care about employee attendance because they’re too emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted.
Unexcused absences also negatively impact companies even when the person in question is a high-performer. Remember, tight-knit bonds form at great companies. When a reliable team player acts out of character, it’s concerning to leaders and the person’s coworkers. Present employees find themselves worrying about what happened to their missing team member and why they didn’t show up. Additionally, they stress about how the absences will affect them. When this happens, it can cause an entire day of disruption and low productivity. These unanswered questions can also lead employees to make assumptions about the absence, which often fuels office gossip.
Can an Employee be Dismissed for Absenteeism?
Never dismiss a team member for not showing up to work without first attempting to contact them. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provide workers with legal protections that give them the right to take leave under specific circumstances. For example, the FMLA gives employees 12 weeks of paid leave in the event the worker or one of their immediate family members needs care for a serious illness or health condition. Likewise, ADA protects employees from being let go in the event they need to take paid leave. It states that employers must make “reasonable accommodations for qualified employees with disabilities . . . Accommodations can include modifications to work schedules, such as leave. There is no set leave period . . .” Dismissing an employee who qualifies for protection under FMLA or ADA could result in the violation of federal law.
Nevertheless, employers have rights too. Leaders don’t have many choices when a person on their team abandons their job. Regardless, business owners and HR departments should have this event on record in case the employee decides to fight their termination or try to receive unemployment benefits after voluntarily resigning from their position. To do this, you’ll need to send the person a job abandonment letter.
When sending a job abandonment letter:
- Write the letter on the company’s official letterhead.
- Alert the worker that they are operating outside the company’s employee absenteeism policies.
- State the absent employee will be terminated if they do not respond within the next five days.
- Provide a detailed log of all the times the business attempted to make contact with them.
- Finally, let them know that no contact is the same as job abandonment and voluntary resignation.
- Send the job abandonment letter via certified mail so you are certain of its delivery.
Want to make sure you’re in compliance? Learn more from the Office of Disability Employment Policy.
5 Tips for Constructively Handling Employee Absenteeism
Learning how to prevent and manage employee absenteeism goes a long way when it comes to decreasing organizational problems such as low productivity, lack of motivation, poor performance, work burnout, and stressful work environments. Creating clearly communicated absenteeism policies that are managed with strong leadership skills is one of the best ways to establish a foundation for better employee attendance. To do this, implement the top five tips on how to decrease absenteeism at work below.
1. Be Clear About Absenteeism Policies
Preventing poor employee attendance starts with making the boundaries and expectations for excused and unexcused absences from work extremely clear. Before establishing absenteeism and PTO policies, CEOs and founders should meet with their leadership and HR teams to discuss what these will be. When developing organizational rules, don’t leave any room for interpretation. Cover possible scenarios such as running late for work, calling in sick, or being forced to miss a day due to a family member’s illness. Let employees know what they should do in the case of these events.
In addition to this, outline the disciplinary actions for being late for work and taking time off without permission. For instance, this might look like saying three or more unexcused absences in a month result in a week of suspended pay, while five or more require a meeting to discuss possible termination. While enforcing guidelines might seem harsh, it benefits team culture and keeps the organization productive and profitable.
To create and implement a strong absenteeism policy:
- Define how taking unlimited PTO or PTO is different from absenteeism. To do this, learn the answer to the question, “How does unlimited PTO work?”
- Provide examples of what is acceptable and unacceptable.
- Write the company’s absenteeism policy into the employee handbook, and distribute it to all team members.
- Be available for any questions employees might have about taking time off.
- Have employees sign off on being held accountable for these guidelines.
2. Hold Everyone on the Team Accountable
Accountability is the acceptance of responsibilities. People can’t be accountable for something they haven’t agreed to take ownership over. This is why it’s important for leaders to have conversations about accountability during the hiring process. Employing workers who don’t want to be accountable for upholding the company’s values system will negatively impact team culture. Look for ideal team players who want to take on responsibility and have no issue abiding by the business’s policies. These people will become the company’s next leaders who take the organization to the next level. As accountability expert Sam Silverstein says, “Accountability is the basis of all meaningful human achievement.” Those who are accountable will help the business scale, grow, and reach its top goals.
In addition to hiring accountable team players:
- Discuss the repercussions of absenteeism with employees and how it affects their coworkers and the organization as a whole.
- Hold all team members accountable to the same standards.
- Communicate when people don’t take ownership over their responsibilities.
- Ask those who break the rules what’s holding them back.
- Be supportive and understanding when outside circumstances cause an unexcused absence.
- Listen for ways you can help prevent the event from happening again.
Find out more about practicing accountability.
3. Document All Absences
One method of combating employee absenteeism is tracking and monitoring employee attendance. To do this, use time tracking tools like Factorial, Time Doctor, or Allhours. These apps are useful in tracking not only absenteeism but also PTO, unlimited PTO, sick days, and other absences. This helps employers realize who is violating the company’s absenteeism policies and who is not. Managers should attempt to make contact with those that are. If the person does not respond but shows back up to work, schedule a meeting with them. During this time, discuss the absence and the consequences for it according to the business’s employee handbook.
When tracking absences:
- Develop a system that makes monitoring unexcused absences a time-efficient process. For example, this looks like using a well-designed time management app instead of an Excel spreadsheet.
- Make sure there are written, well-documented records of employee absenteeism. This helps business owners avoid situations where they’re accused and found guilty of wrongful termination.
- Get a reason for the absence and make a note of it in the time tracking software you’re using.
- Look for repeat excuses and common times a person misses work such as someone’s car breaking down every Monday morning at 8:00 a.m.
- Have in-person accountability discussions with those who always have a big story to tell about why they’re not at work.
4. Immediately Address Absenteeism
Letting offenses slide teaches employees that missing work without approval is acceptable. In organizations, leaders set the pace. If executives, managers, and directors seem nonchalant about team members showing up late, leaving the office whenever they want, and missing work, people will start abusing this relaxed attitude. For this reason, be proactive about absences. Within an hour of an absence, make contact with the person who did not show up to work. Reach out at least three times a day until you get a response. If this continues for more than three days, send the employee a job abandonment letter. In total, this gives someone a week to alert the business about what is going on. Should the person show back up to work, schedule a time that day to discuss their unexcused absence.
In this conversation:
- Express concern. Let them know you and all the other team members were worried about their safety and well-being.
- Ask questions about why they did not let anyone know they were missing.
- Don’t be quick to judge—there could be a valid reason the person did not reach out.
- Use your emotional intelligence to see whether or not there’s something the employee isn’t fully communicating.
- Create an action plan. For example, say an employee gets into a car accident and gets taken to the hospital. During this time, they’re unable to reach their employer for several days. To avoid ever having a huge lapse in communication again, make sure the employee gives one of their immediate family members your contact information.
- Inform team members of the consequences of inexcusable absences. For instance, this might look like a 30-day probation period.
Letting employee absences become a roadblock to the company’s success is a huge business mistake. To avoid this, leaders need to use decision making and problem solving skills that help them select the best solution to absenteeism. Not all unexcused absences are the same—some are justified, while others are not. Consider the situation and think about what the best resolution to the problem at hand is. For instance, does this specific case require a reprimand and a disciplinary action or can it be solved by offering a more flexible work schedule? Is the person experiencing work burnout and needs time to recuperate? Practice Situational Leadership®, and be adaptable to each employees’ needs when developing a solution.
5. Use a Variety of Decision Making and Problem Solving Skills
To problem solve and develop decisions around absenteeism:
- Get to the root of the problem—what is the core issue causing unexcused absences?
- Reverse engineer potential outcomes. For example, think about whether giving the employee a second chance is more beneficial than having an understaffed team for a month.
- Use decision making styles that best resolve the issue. This might look like practicing behavioral decision making when your normal decision making style is directive.
- Never make a choice when emotions are high. Give yourself 24 hours to gain more perspective on the situation so you can make a good decision.
- Get advice from a trusted mentor who has experienced and successfully handled this problem before.
The Best Way to Prevent Absenteeism
When work environments have poor leadership, it shows. Whether it’s work stress caused by lack of direction or low levels of employee recognition and appreciation, bad leadership heavily impacts absenteeism rates. A study conducted by researchers from the University of London and the University of Hertfordshire states: “Studies that have examined discrete leadership styles have consistently found that relational leadership styles (e.g. transformative and charismatic/inspirational) where employees feel valued and have a say in decision making are invariably associated with less absenteeism including sickness and lower staff turnover.”
For this reason, it’s important to not only evaluate your employees who are absent, but also those entrusted with leadership roles. Monitor their demonstrated leadership skills and observe the way they treat their direct reports. What could improve? What needs to change? Additionally, think about how you can better create leaders at all levels. For example, this might look like implementing a company-wide mentorship program or starting a leadership book club. It’s crucial those in leadership positions understand that they’re now responsible for serving the employees under their care. When leaders practice servant leadership, engagement increases, employees feel like they’re not just a number, and the conditions for creating real change in the world occurs.
Learn more in-depth strategies on employee retention.