Understanding and Reducing Employee AbsenteeismUnderstanding employee absenteeism and how you can reduce it

Employee absenteeism can cause numerous problems for businesses: from understaffing and increased administrative costs to poor morale among colleagues who repeatedly end up covering for co-workers.

The causes behind repeated absences are equally varied.

Employees may be struggling to balance childcare or other caring duties with their work life; they may be affected by physical or mental health issues; or they may be going through a major life change, such as bereavement or a divorce.

By understanding the needs of employees and offering them both moral and practical support, employers can do a lot to help their staff manage these challenges and reduce absenteeism.

Identify the employees who need support

It’s not necessary to wait until issues with absenteeism arise in earnest before identifying those employees who may need some extra support. It’s better to prevent problems than put out the fires later.

There are different ways to connect with employees and discover if they are likely to need help with managing their workload. Scheduling regular check-ins proactively invites your staff to share any concerns that they may have around their work hours.

Another way to pick up those early warning signs is to send monthly or quarterly pulse surveys to your employees—77% of employees welcome the opportunity to voice their opinions more than once per year.

Whichever way you go about it, aim to ask for feedback on a regular basis. Life can change rapidly, and your employees may benefit from different kinds of support at different points in time.

For example, an employee who is recovering from an injury may only need practical support for a brief period. Meanwhile, an employee who is providing care for an elderly relative may need a long-term adjustment to their work schedule so that they are able to balance their work life with their caring responsibilities.

Build a caring workplace culture

It’s not always easy for employees to be forthcoming about their needs. Fear of sanctions or even the negative opinions of others could be preventing your staff from opening up about the challenges they’re facing.

Research suggests that as many as 8 out of 10 employees actively hide mental health problems from their employer and colleagues.

A compassionate and understanding workplace culture can go a long way in helping employees feel more comfortable and encourage them to communicate their needs and seek support. As an employer or manager, you can set the tone by modelling openness.

You could break the ice at a check-in with an employee by mentioning your own childcare challenges and what adjustments you’ve made to balance taking care of family and your responsibilities at work, for example.

Another way to provide help and foster a supportive environment is to display information about useful resources prominently in the workplace. This could include details about mental health organisations or services aimed at working parents and carers.

Making this type of information highly visible helps normalise the idea of reaching out and asking for help and can also foster empathy and understanding among co-workers.

Make adjustments to reduce absenteeism

Once you understand what your employees are struggling with, you can come up with adjustments together to reduce absenteeism.

For many people, the most helpful form of support is having greater flexibility over when and where they work. For shift workers, this could mean the ability to swap shifts freely with co-workers, even at the last minute.

For parents and carers, options such as working from home, freedom to complete work outside normal office hours, and ability to adjust start and finish times can make it far easier to fit work around responsibilities at home.

However, make sure that the rest of your team is aware of and able to accommodate colleagues working at different times to prevent any new problems from arising.

An even better solution for parents—if it’s practical for your company to provide it—would be having access to dedicated childcare services at the workplace.

Good things take time

The causes behind workplace absenteeism aren’t always instantly obvious. Building a supportive workplace culture and proactively reaching out to employees can help you uncover and address any issues your employees may be struggling with at an early stage.

What is your organisation doing to support its employees and reduce time taken off work? Let us know in the comments!


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