Absenteeism is a phenomenon that most of us are familiar with, but are not aware of the official term for it. Have you ever missed a day of work due to various personal problems? Or maybe you know someone who regularly misses work or studies? We will be digging deeper into the causes of this issue and providing multiple solutions.
Everyone has encountered an absentee at least once in their life or has been an absentee. The reasons behind the choice to skip a day of work might vary, and they do not always indicate the low professionalism level of the worker. Every conscious decision has plenty of backgrounds, and in some situations, an employer is the one who unknowingly for themselves actively encourages absenteeism through their poor management at the workplace.
But what is the meaning of absenteeism and is there an official definition of this term? And who can be classified as absentee?
Absenteeism meaning and definition
The term "absenteeism" is usually defined as "habitual absence patterns from duties or obligations without a legit reason". Absenteeism is known to be defined as either not showing up at all during your working day or stealing time through coming late, going home early, or taking longer breaks than usual. Absenteeism definition can be briefly summed up as "unplanned absence".
Why is absenteeism a problem?
Perhaps, at first, absenteeism might not seem like a huge deal. Every person has emergencies, and have to miss work from time to time for many different reasons. Many co-workers also exchange shifts, and sometimes covering for someone who got sick is an act of generosity.
However, with time it becomes a real issue. The worker might turn their absence "once in a while" into the "once a week", or in some cases even "once a month" one. Eventually, it becomes a destructive behavioural pattern instead of an occasional, completely understandable situation. The absence of a worker costs a lot financially to the company. It also decreases productivity and the benefits that are given to the company — absenteeism results in the loss of valuable revenue in the long run.
Except that, absenteeism can be disheartening and uninspiring for the remaining team members and staff who work in a particular company. They are usually given additional responsibilities which would typically be covered by the worker who is missing. Consequently, this could lead to a decrease of determination among team members. Lack of inspiration among the team is another factor that affects profitability and productivity.
The article "Sickened by the Cost of Absenteeism" published in autumn 2003 by Workforce magazine provided some crucial information about absenteeism. The report said that from 3 to 6 per cent of working forces miss work because of personal issues that are not foreseen by the schedule, and the claims of disability. This means that companies need someone to compensate for their work, and they supply with additional staff by 10-20 per cent to make up for all the productivity they lost. If the number of staff remains the same, the company needs to pay overtime to those workers who cover for the absentees. This results in enormous financial losses which could have been prevented, and the dissatisfied customers who are not happy with the quality of the company's services.
The annual survey by CareerBuilder found out that in 2017, a whole 40 per cent of working forces had called in sick when they were fine. Some people even made ridiculous excuses about a bear hiding in their backyard or the dog eating the keys from their car, to miss a day of work.
Employee absenteeism is a problem which could be hard to tackle because employees can not be forced to come precisely on time or not take any sick leaves. Obviously, illnesses and vacations are an inevitable part of the working process, and no one is protected from suddenly getting ill or wanting to use their vacation days which they rightfully earned. However, the leaders can only take that much absentee behaviour, before it becomes a regular pattern.
There are some tactics which can be used to free your workplace from absenteeism as much as you can and ensure that the entire team works productively and fulfils their direct responsibilities. But first, you need to know why exactly the absentee workers are not willing to perform their duties. It is an essential part of their psychology, which will bring you closer to understanding the possible solutions to this issue.
What are the causes of absenteeism?
The phenomenon we are talking about has some major underlying causes. They prevent a worker from performing their daily job, and can eventually turn them into a regular absentee.
- Injury or illness. The common diseases, like flu, cold or infections, are happening every once in a while, especially when the virus season hits. Naturally, an employee needs a few days off to heal and improve their mindset, because in this condition they are not very productive. Some people struggle with chronic issues, like back problems, and there are days when they are physically unable to attend work. Usually, these reasons are hard to avoid, because the majority of people has some health issues – both temporary and permanent. The environmental factors of the workplace can heavily contribute to the poor health of workers as well. For instance, the workplace can have an inconvenient design, be too stressful, or employees can get low support. If the place where a person works causes them only stress and discomfort, they would not be very likely to come back. As a result, all their workload is now taken by the other staff members, and they start becoming more stressed and getting problems with health. This, of course, leads to a vicious cycle of more absentees.
- Family. It is obvious that employees have a life beyond work. Many of them have older relatives or families of their own. These people's priority is taking care of their loved ones, and they often find it complicated to come on time or give notice when they need some time off their work. There are workplaces which let their employees who have families work from home. A person still works and completes the necessary tasks and all the worrying about them missing work due to home duties decreases. Not every company, however, follows such a policy.
- Transportation. In our age, we all depend on transport in a way. Many people live far away from their workplace and can not afford to walk there, so they either have to get public transport or drive in their own car. Driving is more reliable, but heavy traffic can still ruin your plans for the day. Besides, not everyone owns a car or is able to drive. As for public transport, there can often be unexpected delays for different reasons. Even if you leave your house earlier, you can still be stuck in traffic or wait for your bus to show up for ages. So, a worker is late, and they manage to complete fewer duties, all due to the reasons that are out of their control.
- Bullying at the workplace. Working for a corporate company is not always rainbows and butterflies. It occurs very often when a boss or team leader is a bully who berates and diminishes their workers. Some leaders are highly manipulative, and they put on a nice act only to use other means to make a worker feel worthless. When a person is being harassed at their workplace, they naturally want to stay as far away from their bullies as possible. They do not want any more distress caused to them and take days off to improve their mental health.
- Burnout. Some jobs are more stressful than the others, and they cause a lot of stress to the person who is expected to perform at their best. The most overwhelming jobs are those which have a lot of deadlines and challenging projects that need to be completed in time. As a result, people become tired and have a hard time forcing themselves to do anything. Their body and mind cannot keep up with all the demands, and their productivity significantly lowers, while stressing level increases. People call in sick when they are feeling burned out because they are not productive at all in such a state.
- Low morale and disengagement. Some people are forced to attend the work that they do not enjoy or love, just to earn money and assure themselves a comfortable living. There are also employees who like the job, but are dissatisfied with their current position in the company and want to achieve more. Plenty of other reasons can lead to disengagement, including the environment at work, relationships with colleagues, the role of a person in the company's life, and their salary. These people often feel like they and their contributions are not appreciated enough. As a result, they either keep torturing themselves and attend their hated job every day or become absentees.
- Mental distress. Another less visible cause of this issue is the psychological distress of workers. The situation with people's mental health is far from perfect, and many workers suffer from depression, anxiety and stress caused by different reasons. Sometimes, those conditions are not even connected with work: people just have them as a consequence of some traumatic experiences. As a result, employees get detached from the typical workflow, and they have difficulties coping with their responsibilities.
- Inflexibility. The issue of not being flexible enough and denying compromises to workers can be crucial for every company. As it was already stated, the workers with families and children value flexibility very much. They mostly prefer to work from home and not waste their time every day on commuting to office and back while also paying a babysitter and not being able to watch their child grow. If more jobs managed to give their employees flexible hours, it could have eliminated many major causes of stress and significantly increase their productivity by letting them complete both work-related and personal responsibilities. Lately, there has been a lot of businesses which encourage their employees to take a day off, known as "mental health day", when they can take care of themselves and pay more attention to their personal issues.
It is imperative for every business, no matter if it is big or small, to understand why people engage into absenteeism, and work out the problematic areas in their workplace which cause discomfort to the employees. This will bring them closer to practical solutions.
Anti-absenteeism policy: is it useful?
A lot of business owners who operate small companies choose not to establish the policy against absenteeism. The causes of such decision vary: some think that there is no use to establish it when they only have a few workers. There are also businesses which do not cover sick leave for the employees, and in such companies, workers need to have a really valid reason to skip work; otherwise, their pay for the month is decreased. Some owners just do not consider absenteeism to be a severe problem, and are choosing not to implement any changes when the existing rules are already good.
However, a lot of small business consultants advise owners of businesses to establish some policy to prevent absenteeism. The written policy can ensure that an employer will not lose a legal case against the employee who has been fired because of severe absenteeism. It is advised to state all the rules explicitly, including the information about the number of absences that are allowed per month, and the consequences of absenteeism for the workers. The strict policy will prevent any misunderstandings and misconceptions, and protect an employer from any legal issues. Except that, it will set discipline in the workplace.
The company culture changes have proven to be very useful in beating the problem of absenteeism. Providing flexible schedule to the workers is an excellent way to offer them more freedom for their personal time management, which will eliminate the absences that are not foreseen. A lot of small businesses have introduced new policies, such as flexible time, job sharing, compressed weeks of work, and telecommuting. Employees are people with their own lives, and they want to find a suitable balance between their home life and job.
How do you deal with absenteeism?
Every business owner wants to minimise the issue of absenteeism. Luckily, there are some effective techniques which they can use to bring this issue down to the lowest possible level.
- Create a policy. It was mentioned above that the promising business has to create a clear and unambiguous policy on attendance. It is hard to track every individual case and make a decision for each worker separately. The business with no such system can easily be subjected to legal issues when the employee who does not attend work often is fired. This person might sue a company for discrimination or other reason, and a business owner will not be able to protect themselves without a set policy. It is also worth mentioning that you absolutely need to make sure that every single employee knows about the changes, to avoid the unnecessary misunderstandings in the future.
- Constantly enforce the policy. Absenteeism for some people is a habit, and it will not go away overnight. This pattern develops over time, and before you raise this issue, it might be viewed by employees as acceptable behaviour. If you want to take the matter into your own hands and learn to handle this issue, you need to enforce this policy frequently. Of course, this does not mean that no employee will get any sympathy from you in a difficult situation or an emergency. But you need to be aware of the unscheduled absences of the employees, and encourage them to give you notices when something urgent comes up. You also need to make it clear that too many absences will not be tolerated, especially when a person has no respect for the schedule and forces you to look for a replacement for them in a timely fashion.
- Track the absences. Every case when an employee misses work needs to be documented in the records. There are many ways to keep track of attendance. You can use time clock apps, create a spreadsheet for attendance specifically, or you can make notes for yourself. If you have no strategy for tracking attendance, it might be difficult to notice when it evolves into a pattern. In case you are a supervisor of a big company, you can tell team leaders to track the attendance of people they are in charge of.
- Address the unscheduled absences. Of course, different situations happen. Still, it is not an excuse for employees not to notify their boss of their absences. Have conversations with them about their attendance, and express the expectations that you lay on them. Make sure that they are aware of the consequences that too many absences can cause.
- Uncover the cause. It is not enough just to treat the symptoms of poor attendance. You should go through the reasons mentioned above and think that maybe some of them apply to your company. Perhaps your employees do not make it on Fridays, or they seem to slack off once you let them go early once. If there is a specific pattern that looks suspicious to you, then you need to point it out and work on it together with the employees. Have a conversation with them about why their absence is tied to certain days of the week, and listen to their responses. There might be many different reasons why their attendance is like this. Make sure to work out a compromise between you and the employees. If they have a valid personal reason, then perhaps you can decide on something that may be suitable for you both, like letting them work from home. But if they do not show up on Fridays just because they want to get ready for their weekend, perhaps it is time to give them a warning and, if they do not listen, take some more significant measures.
- Reward good behaviour. Workers will quickly get tired if you only punish them for their poor attendance and productivity, and do not offer any rewards for positive achievements. Of course, absence may be sensed stronger than presence. But some people are present all the time and do not miss work unless there is a serious reason. And if you implement an anti-absenteeism policy, you should also show the present people that you are grateful for their services. The employees who do not feel appreciated enough are very likely to quit and search for a different job. Giving your employees recognition and praise for their presence and performance is a perfect business strategy to make them want to stay and work for you, so you should pay more attention to this aspect.
Everyone who manages a working environment knows what is absenteeism and why it is such a serious problem. There are no universal solutions to the issue of absenteeism, and you will still have workers who call in sick at the least appropriate time. But having a set policy which every employee understands and acknowledges is useful for the workflow and productivity of the team.