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Taking time off is a regular part of running a business. People get sick, unexpected events occur, and vacations are a must. At Awardco, we have an unlimited PTO policy because we believe in taking time off when you need it. However, regular time off becomes an absenteeism problem when unexcused or unexplained absences rise to the point where your business is affected.
Many companies assume that absenteeism can’t be improved—they just deal with the results. This is like treating the symptoms of a disease. However, with any physical ailment, it’s always better to treat the cause, not the symptom, and absenteeism is the same. Employee absenteeism has underlying causes that you can focus on to improve attendance and fix absenteeism at the source.
Let’s dive in and learn more about what absenteeism is, what causes it, and what you can do to cure this insidious ailment.
What Is Employee Absenteeism?
Employee absenteeism is defined as a failure to report to or remain at work for an expected time. It’s when an employee consistently misses time, more so than with occasional sicknesses, vacations, or personal breaks. Most definitions only count absences that aren’t planned, so vacations or other planned PTO wouldn’t count.
How Does Absenteeism Affect Your Business?
The ramifications of absent employees is fairly straightforward. Here are two of the most immediate consequences and one delayed result of absenteeism:
- Lower productivity and fewer things getting done
- Higher levels of stress and lower employee morale for remaining employees as they try to cover the missing person’s workload
- Both the absent and stressed employee have a higher chance of leaving the company, which raises employee turnover rates.
But what are the costs? Well, it’s estimated that 3% of an organization’s workforce is absent on any given day, and those missing employees cost a lot: productivity lost from missed work costs employers $225.8 billion every single year. When only considering employees with chronic health conditions, not those who miss work for any other reason, the cost of lost productivity for this group is $84 billion each year.
Absenteeism isn’t just a regular part of running a business. When employees are missing work for no real reason, they’re not the problem—the company culture probably is. And when employees miss work on a regular basis, both morale and productivity sink, costing you money and building stress.
Instead of trying to placate frustrated workers who are forced to do someone else’s work or simply accepting lost profits as a cost of doing business (treating the symptom), you can make organizational changes that can lower absenteeism for everyone (treating the cause).
In order to treat the causes of absenteeism, you have to understand them. Below are some of the most common causes and what you can do to treat them.
Underlying Causes and Treatments for Absenteeism
Not all absenteeism can be solved with a wave of a hand or a magical bezoar (Harry Potter reference, anyone?). However, each business can make foundational tweaks that will have rippling retention effects throughout their workforces. Here are some of the most common reasons for absenteeism, along with what you can do to treat them.
When employees don’t care about their work, don’t care about the company, and only do the bare minimum in order to not get in trouble, they’re most likely disengaged. In fact, according to Gallup, only 20% of employees globally show up to work engaged each day. And 15% of employees are actively disengaged, meaning they are miserable at work.
When someone is completely disinterested or even miserable at work, they’ll likely take off as much time as they can. They may even wake up some mornings, decide they don’t want to go to work, and call in sick, just to avoid going to a place they dread.
What Can You Do? Employee Engagement
The secret ingredient to employee engagement is making employees feel valued. In fact, the single highest driver of engagement is whether employees feel like their managers genuinely care about them. One of the best ways to make your employees feel valued is through frequent, timely, and genuine employee recognition. Even a simple “you did a great job on the project last week, and we appreciate your effort” can make an employee’s day!
Career growth opportunities are another great way to show employees that you care. When employees have opportunities to grow and progress in their careers, they’re naturally going to be more engaged in their work.
Feelings of value and development aren’t the only drivers of engagement, though. Clear expectations and instructions can also give a huge boost to your engagement levels. Ensure employees understand their goals and objectives, and let them know what’s expected of them. Provide helpful feedback as the employee works and grows.
2. Stress and Burnout
Stress is extremely common in the workplace: 83% of employees feel it. A little stress isn’t a bad thing, but excessive stress can create burnout. Burnout is feelings of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion created by constant feelings of stress or being overwhelmed at work. A total of 61% of people are burned out from work.
Burnout creates both physical and mental symptoms, such as fatigue and depression, which leads to (you guessed it) absenteeism. In fact, 60% of work absenteeism can be linked to stress and stress-related burnout. Over half of your absent employees are too stressed to show up!
What Can You Do? Focus on Effort
One of the main things you can do is focus on effort rather than results. When you set goals for employees and teams, focus on things in each person’s control, not factors that they can’t control. Open communication is also vital to reducing stress, especially stress of the unknown.
Another great idea for reducing stress is promoting a healthy work/life balance. Offer gym memberships, host wellness programs, and provide sufficient PTO so that people can unplug and unwind, letting the stress of the day or week drain away.
3. Bullying, Harassment, or a Toxic Workplace
Research has found that the biggest factor leading to high turnover is a toxic culture. And if a toxic culture leads to employees quitting, how many “sick” days does a toxic workplace cause? Our guess is a lot.
A toxic work environment can mean a lot of different things, including abusive or unsupportive managers, feelings of disrespect, failure to promote diversity and inclusion, or simply a cutthroat environment. And, of course, any harassment or bullying will cause absenteeism, and should never be tolerated.
What Can You Do? Create a Culture of Recognition
We’re going to sound like a broken record, but using an employee recognition platform can transform a poor culture into a great one. Providing praise and acknowledging good work will always create feelings of happiness and gratitude.
You also have to make sure to treat everyone fair and professionally, no matter what. Train employees on what appropriate behavior is, and then leaders must model that behavior to ensure it spreads.
Collaboration, teamwork, and trust need to be promoted. Even in a highly competitive workplace, make competition fun, lighthearted, and rewarding for everyone.
4. Childcare or Elder Care
Finally, employees may take excessive time off when they have a family member to take care of. Many parents need extra time to take care of their children, and other adults may have an elderly parent who they care for. Just in December 2021, over 45% of fathers and 35% of mothers were planning on leaving their jobs.
What Can You Do? Flexible Work Policy
There’s really only one answer to this one, and that’s flexibility. Create an equitable flexibility policy that allows people to work the hours that they need to on the days that they need to. Whether parents need to be home to take their kids to school or someone needs to leave for a couple hours in the afternoon to visit their aging loved one, this flexibility allows employees to take care of those they love while cutting down on unplanned absences.
Treat Your Absenteeism Today
There may not be a miracle cure for all your absenteeism, but with a few fundamental changes in business policy, you can create an organization that people will want to spend time at. Imagine having a workplace full of engaged, happy, and healthy people—who doesn’t want that?
With things like recognition, professional development, inclusion, work/life balance, trust, and flexibility, your business won’t just be an obligation that people don’t look forward to. It will be a safe, fun, and healthy place where employees are empowered to get stuff done.