Leave Management

How to Reduce Employee Absenteeism

Dealing with employee absenteeism in your small business...
Sean QuinnPosted on Monday, October 16th 2023

Employee absenteeism can have huge consequences in a small business, both for the impacted individuals and the business as a whole. Unlike employee annual leave or sickness, absenteeism refers to instances where employees failed to turn up to work with no viable excuse, usually without prior notice and sometimes without ever notifying the business at all. This is often referred to as being 'absent without leave', or 'AWOL'.

Absenteeism can be an ongoing problem, where an employee fails to show up consistently (or is frequently very late) over a period of time. It's worth being aware of the many reasons behind consistent employee absences, so that you can enact company policies to prevent disruption and deal with the root causes.

What causes employee absenteeism?

There are a number of factors which could be playing a role, including:

  • Family and childcare issues. Although employees should have access to compassionate leave which can be used if a child or relative is involved in an emergency, there may be other issues which cause them to be absent from work on a more frequent and sporadic basis, such as struggling to find childcare or a child with medical needs that has frequent time out from school.
  • Bullying, harassment and staff conflicts. An employee frequently taking time away from work without explanation could be due to a larger issue, where a member of your team is being bullied by other team members.
  • Mental health problems and burnout. Even the most dedicated of employees can end up taking time off work without approval, simply due to burnout and poor mental health caused by overworking.
  • Employee disengagement and lack of motivation. If your team doesn't feel appreciated and isn't aligned with the company's goals, they're much more likely to be absent without explanation.

Problems caused by employee absenteeism

Frequent employee absences can seriously impact the success of a business, in more ways than one.

When employees fail to show up or call in sick at short notice, other team members are often required to pick up the slack by covering their shift or dealing with the consequences of understaffing. This can breed resentment in your team, especially from employees who are always punctual and rarely take time away from work. Over time, employee motivation can be eroded within the whole team, impacting everyone's output.

Understaffing can also impact the service you provide to your customers, ultimately damaging your business' reputation in the long run. If the absent team member is a crucial part of a project, their unexplained time off can seriously derail your timelines and cause clients to be disappointed by late delivery.

5 ways to reduce employee absenteeism

Provide more paid time off

It may sound counter-intuitive, but providing your team with more paid leave days can actually help to reduce employee absenteeism. A more generous annual leave allowance means they can schedule in planned days off to recuperate when they're feeling burnt out, which can be approved and scheduled around to avoid disruption.

Employees who take their full annual leave allowance are much less likely to take sick leave - so by affording your team a few days of extra holiday, you could be saving your business from many more short notice absences.

Regularly check in with your team

It may seem obvious, but many managers fail to take on feedback from their team or simply check in on how things are going, aside from checking on key performance metrics.

Having regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with your employees gives them an opportunity to raise any concerns, especially regarding harassment or bullying in the workplace. Making them feel heard can go a long way to improving engagement, and means you're made aware of any potential issues sooner rather than later.

Have a clear leave policy

Make sure your team understand their obligations when it comes to taking time away from work, and the consequences for taking unauthorised absences.

Some businesses choose to implement scores such as the Bradford Factor in their company policy - there can be benefits and drawbacks to implementing these kind of monitoring metrics, but if you're experiencing serious problems with absenteeism, clear rules can be a helpful place to start. Ensure your employees know what's considered an acceptable level of absence, and the disciplinary measures if they fail to follow your company policy.

Provide incentives and celebrate your employees

Rather than focusing on employees who are seen to be a 'problem', focus on your team members who make a positive contribution.

Employees who are consistently reliable and do great work should be rewarded; whether that's with bonuses based on performance, additional benefits or simply with frequent positive feedback to let them know you appreciate their hard work.

Empowering your employees makes them much less likely to become disengaged, and helps to protect against the negative effects of other team members being frequently absent.

Tackle the root causes

Ultimately, you'll need to figure out the root cause of your employee absenteeism issue, by discussing it with the employee in question.

Most of the time, there should be a clear resolution to an employee's issue; whether your team need more parental leave, more flexible schedules or simply need a break, it requires direct and compassionate communication from management to handle the situation.

Ready to save your
business time and money?