Absenteeism at Work and What You Can Do About It—empty white office chair in an at-home office space|Absenteeism at Work and What You Can Do About It—empty black office chair in an office space

Absenteeism at Work and What You Can Do About It

Haeli Harris
September 16, 2021
October 9, 2022

You sit down at your home office desk in the morning, and you just aren't feeling it. Your brain is clogged with countless tasks. Your body aches, and you feel exhausted. There's no way you can slog through another day.

This is the reality of absenteeism at work. Employees are burnt out, unengaged, and unhappy. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to help reduce absenteeism in your workplace.  

What is absenteeism at work?

Absenteeism at work is simply not showing up when you are expected to. Oftentimes, absenteeism is unplanned and sporadic.

Stress, poor mental health, physical pain, and low employee engagement can lead to absenteeism.

Mental health struggles like depression can lead to 400 million lost workdays per year. And that's just from depression—the 2nd most prevalent mental health disorder (behind anxiety disorders).

Absenteeism's lesser-known cousin—presenteeism—has increased in prevalence as well. Presenteeism is when someone shows up to work but is unengaged and not productive.

Presenteeism has increased with the rise of remote work. Many would say that absenteeism levels have actually decreased. Less work-life boundaries have made working around the clock possible.

How to calculate absenteeism rates in your workplace

To better understand how absenteeism affects your workplace, divide the number of absent days by the number of typical workdays in a given period of time.

You can use this formula to calculate the absenteeism rate for a particular employee, team, department, or the entire company.

Typical absenteeism rates are around about 3%.

Anything above that would be considered excessive absenteeism at work.

Related: Unique Incentives to Get Employees Back to Work

What are the major causes of absenteeism at work?

Here are the major causes of absenteeism at work:

  1. Stress
  3. Poor mental health
  5. Low employee engagement
  7. Childcare troubles
  9. Family-related issues
  11. Workplace harassment
  13. Poor physical health

We'll also walk you through actionable ways to reduce absenteeism in your workplace.

Keep in mind that these 7 causes of absenteeism are all interconnected. If one area is suffering, so will the others. Thankfully, you will be able to lessen absenteeism by taking action today on any of these categories.

1. Stress

The major causes of stress at work are heavy workload, conflict, and deadlines.

The first one goes without saying! 80% of employees feel that they are burning out at work due to heavy workloads.

When we think of conflict, we typically think of conflict between individuals—but it can also include struggles an employee has with oneself.

For instance, employees may feel that they never perform enough and must always prove themselves by working long hours. Imposter syndrome is another example of internal conflict.

Impending deadlines and too many tasks can exasperate even the best employees and lead to burnout.

How to Address It: Get to the source of the stress—which may be different for every employee. Check-in with employee stress levels with one-on-ones. Give employees the tools to be productive and help them get time back like Volley. Emphasize that it is good to take breaks and clarify that salaried employees are only expected to work 40 hours per week. Here are some more stress management ideas you can provide employees and use yourself!

You can address stress even more thoroughly by making mental health at work a priority.

2. Poor mental health

Mental health goes hand-in-hand with stress. When stress becomes severe, it can lead to a mental illness.

Mental health and mental illness aren't the same. We all have mental health. If we take care of it, we can prevent mental illnesses.

Poor work-life balance can make employees especially suspectable to stress and mental health struggles. Employees that never unplug from work enter an endless cycle of constantly putting out energy and not recharging—leading to burnout.

Depression, anxiety, irritability, and not taking time for self-care are all signs of suffering mental health.

How to Address It: Step 1 is to talk about it with your employees. Keep holding those one-on-one meetings with employees. Add an EAP or employee wellness program to your benefits package. These blog posts will help you put mental health first at your company:

3. Low employee engagement

Low employee morale and engagement often go hand in hand with little employee recognition or feedback.

It is essential in a remote work environment to give verbal feedback. Most employees want more feedback and aren't sure exactly where they stand. Keep the lines of communication open.

When stress and mental health in the workplace are addressed, you will see employee engagement improve. But there are additional ways you can improve engagement directly...

How to Address It: Meet with employees often to provide feedback (positive or negative). Make sure your DMs and emails include smiley faces and positive language, so you're not being misinterpreted. Use video communication as much as possible over texts, DMs, or email.

4. Childcare troubles

Childcare concerns and parenting stress levels remain high. You can do your employees a huge favor by recognizing this additional stress and providing ways to support them.

Communicate to your team that it's okay if you need to pick up your child from school today because your spouse can't. Make it clear what the expectations are. When should employees be at their desks? When is it okay to step away?

Make sure to add these expectations to your employee onboarding materials. While you're at it, tell them about your EAP program and expectations for hours worked per week.

How to Address It: Some of our favorite ways to support parents include...

  • Offering flexible work options
  • Talking about mental health
  • Providing an EAP so parents can seek help
  • Creating a forum or support group for parents at your company

5. Family-related issues

There is a common mantra we hear in the workplace "leave your personal issues at the door". In reality, that is nearly impossible for anyone! Often times there are situations such as divorce, sickness in the family, and more that can lead to emergencies causing employees to leave work.

How to Address It: At times like this management must use their discretion, but ultimately siding with humility and understanding is the best route to take.

6. Workplace Harassment

Workplace bullying is prominent in many companies. Nearly 20 percent of U.S. workers experience bullying in the workplace and 19 percent witness it.

Bullying and harassment can include denying someone promotional opportunities, spreading rumors, or undermining someone.

How to Address It: Before you become the long-term target of bullying, speak up at the moment right then and there. Try saying “I know that you really care about everyone feeling valued, but when you do X, it undermines that intention,”. Or explain the problem and how it makes you feel. Ask the individual how they would feel if they were spoken to in that same manner. If that doesn't, work it's time to document the abuse with human resources.

7. Poor physical health

Desk job pain, lack of exercise, not eating well...

The effects of stress and poor mental health on the body are real. Don't ignore them!

Sitting for prolonged periods of time can even lead to an increased risk for anxiety and depression.

20% of people suffer from chronic pain. Encouraging employees to take care of their physical and mental health will help those affected by pain. Our bodies are meant to move!

How to Address It: Provide an employee wellness program to teach employees how to take care of their bodies and hold team exercise challenges to see who can walk the most steps in a week. Hold group yoga sessions with your team. You could also consider having walking meetings outside.

From absenteeism to high engagement

Addressing just one of these causes of absenteeism at work can make a huge difference. Strive to create a space where employees will feel supported, valued, and respected, and you'll be well on your way to reducing absenteeism in your workplace.

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By participating in/reading the service/website/blog/email series on this website, you acknowledge that this is a personal website/blog and is for informational purposes and should not be seen as mental health care advice. You should consult with a licensed professional before you rely on this website/blog’s information. All things written on this website should not be seen as therapy treatment and should not take the place of therapy or any other health care or mental health advice. Always seek the advice of a mental health care professional or physician. The content on this blog is not meant to and does not substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Haeli Harris
Haeli Harris
Haeli Harris, LMFT is the Director of Clinical Operations at Nivati. She has been practicing as a Marriage and Family Therapist since 2014. Haeli has experience working as a therapist in private practice settings, residential facilities, outpatient treatment care, schools, and telehealth.