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Resolving employee absenteeism

9 November 2017

Absenteeism costs over $2 billion to the US economy alone each year, with the cost per employee ranging from $16 to $286 per day.1

Absenteeism is an employee’s intentional or habitual absence from work. While it’s normal for employees to miss a number of days of work per year, being absent too often can mean decreased productivity and extra costs.

In this article we explain what causes absenteeism and what the implications are for a company. We also offer tips on how to reduce absenteeism in the workplace.

The causes

Many factors can contribute to absenteeism, but the main causes are:

  • Bullying: If an employee is bullied or harassed at work they are more likely to be absent in order to avoid the situation
  • Stress and depression: Stressful work environments, heavy workloads, depression, and mental illness account for the most work days lost in the UK, over 70 million per year,3 and higher absenteeism than back pain in Canada.4
  • Childcare and eldercare: In the case of an emergency (a child or elder gets sick), or if plans happen to change unpredictably (a caregiver isn’t available, or a snow day at school), employees might be forced to miss work.
  • Illness and injury: Illness, injuries, and medical appointments are some of the most common reasons stated by employees for missing work.


Absenteeism has a high price tag, representing the combined cost of wages paid to absent employees, finding replacement workers, administrative costs of managing absenteeism, reduced productivity, and reduced quality in goods and services.5 To put it in numbers, the total cost of absenteeism across multiple professional disciplines accounts for about 2.5% of Europe’s GDP.5


Absenteeism is a difficult problem to tackle. However, employers have found that putting an emphasis on employee wellbeing seems to produce positive results. Making the move toward mandatory sick leave is a good example of this. While it might seem counter-intuitive, this allows employees to recover sooner therefore stopping the spread of communicable diseases and resulting in less absenteeism in the long run.6,7

Another solution is having a flexible work environment. A Swedish study introduced “adjustment latitude”, which allows employees to adjust their work according to their illness so as to maintain a sufficient capacity to work while maintaining a level of productivity. Having this option resulted in fewer cases of absenteeism.5

Company childcare can also be very effective in saving lost work days, as last minute changes can happen to school or childcare arrangements.8

Ultimately, employees want to feel safe and cared for by their company, which is why employee assistance and employee wellbeing programmes seem to be more effective. Examples are offering health risk assessments (HRAs), counselling for mental health issues, and health programmes such as weight management and smoking cessation.9,10 This helps boost employee morale, which in turn increases commitment to the company, and consequently increases productivity.9,10




1. Mental Health Foundation. Managing mental health in the workplace. Accessed 13 September 2017.
2. Kocakulah MC, Kelley AG, Mitchell KM, Ruggieri MP. Absenteeism problems and costs: causes, effects and cures. The International Business & Economics Research Journal (Online). 2016 Feb 22;15(3):89. Accessed 15 September 2017.
3. Witters, D. Gallup. In U.S., Poor Health Tied to Big Losses for All Job Types. 2013. Accessed 13 September 2017.
4. Shepell•fgi Research Group. Employee Engagement & Health: An EAP's Role & Perspective. Accessed 18 September 2017.
5. EurWORK. Absence from work. 2010. Accessed 13 September 2017.
6. Asay GRB, Roy K, Lang JE, Payne RL, Howard DH. Absenteeism and Employer Costs Associated With Chronic Diseases and Health Risk Factors in the US Workforce. Prev Chronic Dis 2016;13:150503. DOI: Accessed 18 September 2017.
7. Whittall, M. EurWORK. Flexible working environment can reduce absenteeism. 2007. Accessed 13 September 2017.
8. Brown D. CIBC day care saves 2,500 absence days. Canadian HR Reporter. 2003;16:1.
9. Truman, D. Ohio companies try to encourage employees not to take sick days. Knight Ridder Tribune Business News. 2003. Accessed 18 September 2017.
10. Berry LL, Mirabito AM, Baun WB. What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs?. Harvard Business Review. 2010. Accessed 18 September 2017.