Corporate Wellness

How to Improve Staff Attendance

12 Apr 2017
Last updated on 1 Jun 2023

What can you do to improve workplace attendance? Sometimes it’s hard to know how to tackle the issue – what’s the most effective method, the carrot or stick approach?

Before we take you through the steps you can use to increase your staff attendance, it’s important to understand why absenteeism is such a problem in the workplace.

This is what the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development says:

  • The cost of absenteeism to the average UK business is around £554 per employee.
  • Businesses lose 6.9 workdays a year due to absenteeism.
  • The problem is costing the UK economy £100 billion.

Some of the numbers vary depending on which report you read as each uses different sources and methods of calculation. However, the broad picture and magnitude of the problem is indisputable.

Low attendance among your staff is impacting businesses in other ways, too. There’s also the affect it has on workplace morale, and how it hits employee engagement. Then there’s the extra pressure it puts on everyone else, including the supervisory hours spent trying to manage the problem.

What’s the most common cause of absenteeism?

Research from the Office for National Statistics named the top causes of sick absence in the workplace, apart from minor illnesses, as:

  • Mental health problems (such as stress, depression and anxiety) – 17.0
  • Musculoskeletal problems (such as neck pain) – 13.8
  • Neck and upper limb problems – 9.4
  • Back pain – 9.2
  • Gastrointestinal problems – 9.1

The numbers represent the estimated number of sickness days taken by workers (in millions) over the course of a year.

Pretty sobering statistics, right? So, what are the best ways to deal with the problem?

It’s no good working in the dark when you’re looking at how to reduce absence rates. First, you have to get a handle on staff absence figures – and this means having a good absence management policy in place.

Implement an Absence Management Policy

An absence management policy serves three main purposes, in order of importance:

  • Preventative
  • Proactive
  • Provision


The most critical element of your absence management policy is prevention. This could include encouraging your staff to take regular breaks from their desk, cycle to work schemes, healthy eating and health awareness days. The policy will also look at the sorts of staff benefits you could implement to support your efforts.


Look at your absence records – are there any patterns? Are any issues adding to the problem? For example, if back and neck pain is a recurring feature find out what could be causing it. Do staff need more rest breaks or standing desks?

If stress is all too common, think of ways you could reduce it, such as sharing the workload or reassessing any deadlines that are in place. Make sure that what you’re asking of your workers is realistic.


When staff absence is unavoidable, it’s important to minimise the impact on other staff, so a contingency plan should be drawn up just in case. It’s equally important that HR staff are fully equipped to deal with staff absence through regular training, and that staff are supported back to work.

Find out what’s going wrong

Find out what’s going wrong

Lots of businesses can be guilty of simply ticking boxes to record non-attendance without looking at the root cause of the problem.

As well as physical illness, there are other considerations to be aware of which could be affecting staff absence. For instance, workplace bullying and low engagement among staff are also known to affect attendance.

Other reasons include:

  • Low engagement/boredom
  • Drug or alcohol issues
  • Family problems

You can tackle some of these issues head-on, but others are more difficult to address. Good communication is key to supporting your staff through any issues they may have.

Reduce Workplace Stress

There are lots of ways to reduce workplace stress, including improving the lines of communication between employees and leaders, and specialist training to help managers identify the warning signs.

In practical terms, encouraging workplace health can dramatically reduce their stress. When workers know that their employee cares about their wellbeing, it can change the dynamic and reduce their burden.

Moves such as introducing healthy food in the canteen and vending machines, encouraging participation in sports and even offering gym membership to employees can help transform both your workplace culture and the people who work there.

If stress is endemic in your organisation, you could also think about supporting staff with workplace counselling schemes.

Improving Staff Morale

Linked to reducing stress, making sure that staff morale is high can bring real benefits across the whole business, not just reducing absenteeism but improving productivity and increasing engagement.

What staff want is recognition. In fact, there’s evidence to show that this is just as important for workers as any financial rewards. If you don’t have the budget for a big benefits scheme, there are other ways you can show employees that they’re valued.

For example, when they stay late in the office don’t take them for granted – offer them time off in lieu. Or find ways to reward staff who meet sales or other targets – offer them lunch for free (but make sure it’s a healthy one).

Improve the Working Environment

Look at your overall workplace culture – are you actively encouraging your staff, making them feel valued and helping them to be productive?

Even small things like opening up spaces where staff can have a breather and a chat together can transform the work environment. And encouraging communication is a good thing.

A happy workplace is a healthy workplace, and you can go a long way towards reducing absenteeism by making sure staff stay healthy and happy at work.

Whether you prefer the stick or the carrot approach to improving attendance, when you provide your employees with an environment that helps them grow professionally and personally, staff absences will naturally reduce as a result.

Offering staff benefits like subsidised gym membership or flexible working probably costs less than you think, when you measure it against the costs of absenteeism. Businesses across the world are using gym membership schemes from Wellhub to keep their staff happy. Find out more now.



Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.