Last updated on August 26, 2023 at 10:00 pm
We talk a lot about the importance of employee engagement and the employee experience. But we don’t talk a lot about one of the biggest side effects of a poor work environment and low engagement: employee absenteeism. In this blog, we’re going to talk about the dangers of ignoring absenteeism and its underlying causes.
What is Employee Absenteeism?
Employee absenteeism is when employees are frequently absent from work. This can come in the form of being habitually late, leaving too early, or being gone for unexplained periods of time during the work day.
While some define any absence from work as absenteeism, the issue with absenteeism does not really apply to employees who have justifiable reasons. For example, an employee who has a predetermined flexible schedule so they can leave early to pick up their kids or an employee who is currently undergoing medical treatment does not present the same issue as employees who miss a lot of work for unplanned and unexplained reasons.
Naturally, that means this issue can lead to disruptions in daily operations, increased workloads for other team members, and ultimately, a negative impact on the company’s bottom line.
What Causes Employee Absenteeism?
So, why do employees start skipping out on work?
Naturally, most employers would say that there is some issue with the employee. They might cite laziness or poor organization or work ethic, but this isn’t the only possible explanation. In fact, there are many reasons for employee absenteeism and some of them might even be in your control.
- Undisclosed scheduling conflicts. Keep in mind that it’s possible an employee is juggling other responsibilities—like caring for a child or family member—that they might not have disclosed. Or perhaps they are dealing with an illness that they haven’t told you about. The question you should ask is why haven’t they felt like they could bring that forward?
- Workplace harassment. Unfortunately, harassment or bullying might be the reason your employees are struggling to come to work on time. Some might “call in sick” to avoid that kind of toxic environment.
- Burnout and stress. Not all employees handle stress and employee burnout the same way. Some might quit (or even quiet quit) and some might be absent more frequently.
- Employee disengagement. If employees aren’t engaged, it means they aren’t feeling very motivated about their work, which can lead to more absences.
The good news is that many of the causes of employee absenteeism might be in your control. It might be a matter of helping create better working arrangements for certain workers, removing toxic managers or bullies, and addressing engagement and culture issues.
Negative Impacts of Employee Absenteeism
Aside from the fact that absent employees might be suffering from negative impacts of your culture, their team, or management, employee absenteeism causes a ripple effect on the rest of the company.
Once an employee, or even a few employees, start checking out at work, more weight falls on the shoulders of their teammates. That leads to increased workload for everyone else on a team and, ultimately, lower productivity because more work for fewer people isn’t often sustainable.
Over time, this imbalance of work will hurt employee morale. That’s the danger of low engagement. If one employee is disengaged and becomes absent, it leads to more employees feeling disengaged. And that often leads to more voluntary turnover.
As more and more of your workforce starts to check out or struggle with burnout and high workloads, this will start to impact things like safety, product quality, the customer experience, and even your brand reputation.
How Do You Deal With Employee Absenteeism?
The solution for employee absenteeism is going to look different based on the type of employee you’re focusing on. For instance, looking into more flexible scheduling works great for remote, in-office, or hybrid teams but doesn’t really work for frontline and deskless workers.
That said, let’s go over a few different strategies that can help with an absenteeism issue:
- Flexible schedules. Like we mentioned, flexible working arrangements can be very helpful. But the catch is that employees still have to get their work done. So, this might not work for employees who are checked out due to disengagement or if they really are just feeling lazy about work. It does help employees who have child or eldercare responsibilities or who aren’t feeling safe at work.
- Focus on culture. If employees are absent from disengagement or burnout, you have to focus on the employee experience. Do you value and recognize your teams? Are employees being asked to do too much? Have you focused on manager communication and creating psychologically safe environments?
- Enforce the rules. If employees won’t work with you to come to work and get their work done, despite efforts to understand the root of the issue, then you do have to enforce the rules. It’s incredibly disengaging and disrespectful to other employees if you tolerate bad behavior that negatively impacts them. That said, you also have to take action against workplace bullies and toxic management too.
- Improve communication. Culture, engagement, and productivity all hinge on how well you communicate as an organization. Although this isn’t a magic bullet to fix employee absenteeism, it can help mitigate the negative domino effect of disengagement, low morale, and turnover.
Using an Employee Engagement Strategy to Combat Absenteeism
To effectively combat absenteeism, we recommend focusing on a targeted employee engagement strategy that addresses the root causes of absenteeism. Follow these steps:
- Measure Employee Engagement. You can’t improve what you don’t measure, right? Measure where you currently stand with engagement and culture so you can see if your efforts are improving things.
- Address Workload Issues. Review workload distribution and ensure that employees aren’t overwhelmed with excessive tasks. Implement measures to prevent burnout, such as promoting work-life balance, offering flexible work arrangements, and encouraging employees to take regular breaks and time off.
- Recognize Employees. Recognize and reward employees for their hard work and achievements. A well-structured recognition program can boost morale, enhance job satisfaction, and increase employee loyalty, reducing the likelihood of absenteeism.
- Provide Career Development Tracks. Offer opportunities for career growth to keep employees engaged and motivated.
- Improve Communication Channels. Enhance internal communication channels to keep employees more informed and feeling connected to the company.
- Focus on Wellbeing. Implement employee wellbeing programs to support employees’ physical, emotional, and mental health at work.
- Recognize the Role of the Manger in Absenteeism. Train managers to be effective leaders and communicators. A strong manager-employee relationship can positively impact engagement levels and reduce absenteeism.
By creating a comprehensive employee engagement strategy, you can create a work environment where employees are motivated, connected, and committed to their roles. An engaged workforce is more likely to show up consistently, contribute productively, and drive the company’s success while reducing the occurrence of absenteeism.
About the Author
Sydney Lauro is the Demand Generation Manager for theEMPLOYEEapp. Prior to joining the team at theEMPLOYEEapp, Sydney worked in internal communications for Chipotle Mexican Grill. She uses her internal comms expertise and passion for improving communication and the employee experience to create content and share best practices to help other communications professionals.
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