5 Ways to Manage Employee Absenteeism

Performance Management 5 Ways to Manage Employee Absenteeism

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a classroom of empty chairs

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, nope, it’s your chronically absent employee’s empty desk chair. Again. What will you do about Harold?
Absenteeism is a major issue in the workplace that extends beyond personal illness. There can be several legitimate reasons that employees miss work and other, well, not so legitimate. In any case, how you deal with and address an employee’s absence in the workplace is ultimately what matters the most.

What’s the Problem?

Absenteeism takes on many forms. While we’re used to employees calling out when they’re ill, it may be less common to hear of an employee calling out depressed. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression takes the gold with the leading cause of missed work in the United States.

Other causes include burnout and stress related to both work and personal issues, disengagement and lack of motivation, injuries or accidents, bereavement, poor leadership or issues with management, issues in securing childcare, bullying or harassment, feelings of unfairness on the job, and job hunting. Regardless of the specific reason, it is important that management knows what’s really going on in order to effectively address the issue.

How to Handle Absenteeism

Know What to Expect

Employees should know before they begin work at a company what the policy is for being absent. Just as one would expect to know salary and performance expectations before working, it should be known what absent or sick time is available to employees in the case they do need to miss work.

These questions should be addressed before an offer of employment is even made to ensure that everyone is on the same page and agrees that expectations are fair and can be met.

Be Flexible

The more flexible you can be about your employee’s schedules, the less likely they are to call out sick when they need time off to deal with some other issue. The caveat here is the understanding of the reasons your employees aren’t showing up. Once you’ve identified these, your response can be more tailored.

Whether you decide to reward employees for attendance or allow half days once in a while, the bigger picture is that making room for change and flexibility goes a long way to boost the morale and wellbeing of your employees. It also shows them that you care.

Promote Employee Wellness and Stress-Reduction

This could even be a small gesture, such as team lunches or inviting a wellness coach or massage therapist into the office once in a while to break up the monotony. A survey by Towers Watson found that within high-effectiveness organizations are employees who are more engaged in their health and well-being as a result of employer participation in health and productivity programs. Further, this study found a correlation between these health and productivity strategies and human capital and financial results.

Working to reduce stress in the workplace, which is the biggest source of stress according to 2013 APA survey, is another hot topic and can be addressed by ensuring that open lines of communication exist for employees to voice their concerns and have the tools available to decrease stress when it becomes overwhelming.

Clearly, investing in the health and well-being of your employees also means an investment in the future health of your company.

Motivate and Inspire

Compassion goes a long way. Oftentimes absenteeism is a secondary effect of a primary issue that is causing trouble in an employee’s life. Whether it’s related to a personal issue or challenges at work that need to be addressed, being understanding and offering the benefit of the doubt is important to build trust among your team and the overall feelings of acceptance.

Life happens. Sometimes all we need is someone else to understand and allow us the space and reassurance to manage those happenings while knowing that our jobs aren’t threatened by taking some time off.


Effective communication is so important in the workplace, especially in the relationship between management and employees. When transparency exists among a team, everyone benefits. It’s much easier to approach a boss who has made themselves available for these kinds of things than it is to someone who hasn’t. Additionally, someone who hasn’t proven to be approachable is likely to suffer from increased absenteeism and turnover within their staff.

Ultimately, no manager or company policy can be perfect in monitoring employee absenteeism, but with a greater understanding of the reasons why employees call out and a practice to implement ways to reduce absenteeism, employers and employees can

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