Organizational Wellness

What Causes Employee Absenteeism – And How to Resolve It

Sep 25, 2023
Last Updated May 20, 2024

A successful business thrives on the strength of its workforce. While customers, products, systems, tools, and technology all play a role, it is the talented team that truly drives its success. They are the ones responsible for product design, marketing, customer communication, finances, and more.

Employees, of course, have to be at work to do all of that great work. Yet it’s estimated that  114,000 employees in the U.S. miss work on any given day — about 29,640,000 absences from work a year. This represents a substantial loss of output and value for employers.

If employees are chronically missing work at your company, that’s understandably frustrating. But there are solutions. Once you gain a grasp on what absenteeism is (and, importantly, what it is not) you can begin the process of improving engagement in your workforce. 

What Is Employee Absenteeism? 

Employee absenteeism is the habitual absence of an employee from work, for legitimate reasons or no reason. To qualify as absenteeism, an employee must have a continued streak of absences or regularly occurring absences. 

Not every instance of an employee being out of work for multiple days qualifies as absenteeism. Absenteeism is not:

  • Using vacation time. Employees should use your vacation time and take the chance to relax and step away from work
  • Taking a sick day. When ill, people should have the chance to recover, and most workplaces are pretty accommodating with a sick day when you need it
  • A no-show day. An employee not showing up for a single day isn’t absenteeism, even if there’s no given reason for it
  • Using personal time. If an employee has the days (or you have unlimited PTO), they can use their personal time, and it’s not absenteeism 

Absenteeism can occur in a wide variety of workplace setups, including in-person, hybrid, and remote. In-person absenteeism is pretty obvious: the person just doesn’t come in regularly. But for hybrid and remote employees, absenteeism might look more like somebody who is never online and not turning in any work. 

Types of Employee Absenteeism

Employee absenteeism can be categorized into two types: culpable and non-culpable. 

Culpable absenteeism refers to instances when an employee fails to provide a valid reason for their absences, often without informing their supervisor. On the other hand, non-culpable absenteeism is typically caused by uncontrollable circumstances such as family illness, bereavement, or mental health struggles.

The defining factor of non-culpable absenteeism is that the absences are communicated to the supervisor, ensuring transparency and accountability. This approach prevents teams from being left without a valuable team member and keeps everyone informed about their whereabouts.

Causes of Employee Absenteeism

The first step in addressing absenteeism is to figure out what’s causing it. Absenteeism has various roots, including:

  • DisengagementEmployee engagement is vital for the smooth functioning of workplaces. It has a direct impact on absenteeism, as lack of engagement correlates with decreased effort and presence. By prioritizing employee engagement, absenteeism can be reduced by an impressive 41%.
  • Responsibilities to children or elderly. Caregiving can pull people away from work. It’s estimated that 17% of Americans are caregivers in some way — whether taking care of children or elderly or both — and that group misses an average of 6.6 days of work a year. Absenteeism can occur when an employee’s dependant experiences unexpected and extended needs. 
  • Depression. The number one cause of employee absenteeism is depression. This can be hard to identify and diagnose, and often goes unnoticed at work. But it doesn’t have to be this way. By making sure your company supports mental health, you can help reduce mental health absenteeism. 
  • Harassment/bullying. Unfortunately, workplace bullying or harassment leads to absenteeism. Employees who are bullied may call in sick or call out to avoid the situation entirely. 
  • Burnout. Approximately 59% of American employees currently suffer from burnout, which negatively impacts their motivation and job performance. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of absenteeism.
  • Low morale. Low employee morale might manifest itself as a negative attitude and poor performance. As you can guess, employees that don’t have a good attitude about their jobs could be more prone to absenteeism. 
  • Stress. Stress is a common experience, but excessive stress can have serious consequences. Have you ever wondered how many employees regard their job as their primary source of stress? Absenteeism can be  a coping mechanism to avoid workplace stressors
  • Substance abuse. Substance abuse constitutes estimated 14% of work-related absences. 
  • Inflexible schedule. Some employees have an inflexible schedule in some way. They have some other type of commitment, and end up leaving work early or coming late regularly. 

Impacts of Employee Absenteeism

Employee absenteeism affects both the employees at your company and the company itself. 

For the Business

For the company itself, absenteeism can cause: 

  • Increased workload. When an employee is regularly not showing up for work, somebody is going to have to pick up the slack, and that’s increasing the rest of the team’s workload. 
  • Increased burnout. Employees that have too large of a workload could experience more burnout. This can cause a vicious cycle, where absenteeism adds to an employee’s workload, and spreads burnout throughout the team as co-workers pick up extra tasks.
  • Staffing issues. For some companies, you need employees to fill certain positions to keep your company running smoothly. If you have customer-facing employees, that can be crucial. Absenteeism can cause staffing issues and throw your employees into tricky situations. 
  • Decreased job satisfaction. Overloaded employees making up for absenteeism can experience decreased job satisfaction with their own positions. 
  • Decreased profitability. Absenteeism can cost you $3,600 for hourly employees and $2,660 for salaried employees each year. 

For the Employee

What about the employee who is suffering from absenteeism? Absenteeism for them can lead to: 

  • Reputational risk. Employees who are regularly missing work may end up losing their standing as a reliable team player, which can limit career growth.
  • Decreased motivation. Especially when absenteeism leads to an overwhelming workload,  employees may become so overwhelmed that they begin to give up.
  • Job loss. Ultimately, continuing absenteeism can lead to the employee losing their job

How to Decrease Employee Absenteeism 

What actions can be taken to address these concerns effectively? Effective strategies to reduce employee absenteeism include:

  • Talk with absent employeesOne-on-one meetings are already important in the workplace, and it’s especially vital when you’re dealing with absenteeism. This is an opportunity to get to the cause of their spotty attendance to see if anything can be done to support them and restore previous engagement levels.. 
  • Recognize performance & good attendanceEmployee recognition is important for reducing absenteeism — about 66% of employees would leave a job if they didn’t feel appreciated. You can let employees know that you value regular attendance by offering small rewards or perks for regular attendance, such as gift cards, extra paid time off, or other incentives.
  • Invest in a wellness program. Poor health can be a major contributor to absenteeism, so investing in your employees' wellbeing is an important way to reduce it. You can offer wellness programs and medical benefits that encourage employees to stay healthy and look after their physical and mental well-being.
  • Offer flexible working hours. Flexible working arrangements such as telecommuting, job sharing, and part-time work can make a big difference in reducing absenteeism. By making it easier for employees to balance their personal and professional obligations, you can increase engagement and motivation levels which will ultimately reduce absences.
  • Offer family-friendly benefits. Providing employees with family-friendly benefits such as day care, parental leave, and emergency childcare can make it easier for them to manage their families' needs without having to worry about taking time off from work. This can also show your employees that you care about their personal lives and are willing to support them in whatever way you can.
  • Track employees’ attendance patterns. Absences are important to track for legal reasons. But knowing when and where absences are occurring can give you deeper insight into what’s causing the problem in the first place and what you might be able to do about it. 
  • Create & enforce a fair attendance policy. Maybe your absenteeism is happening because you don’t have an attendance policy or a clear attendance policy. Maybe it hasn’t been enforced. Sometimes solving the problem comes with making sure everyone is on the same page. 

Create a Culture Where People Want to Work

Absenteeism can arise from various factors, but you can diminish its occurrence by cultivating an exceptional work environment. The key to achieving this lies in prioritizing employee well-being, which forms the bedrock of a remarkable workplace. That's where Wellhub comes in.

With Wellhub, you can grant your workforce access to a diverse range of fitness centers and activities worldwide, ensuring they discover something that truly captivates them. By making exercise both accessible and affordable, you empower your team to maintain their health and vitality.

Whether it's creating a healthier work setting or fostering opportunities for social interactions beyond business hours, Wellhub equips your employees with an array of activities to stay fit, active, and engaged. By encouraging holistic self-care, you can nurture a culture where people embrace each day.

Together, we can help you create an environment where people want to work and feel valued. Let’s get started! Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist today. 

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!



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.


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