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8 Major Causes of Employee Absenteeism



Chronic, unscheduled absences can have a big impact on your team’s performance. Since these absences are unplanned, it might seem like there’s nothing you can do to prevent them. These absences are different from the occasional sick day, planned vacation, or family emergency.

Chronic absences build up over time and may not seem to have a clear cause. But, when you dig a little deeper, you may find that there are some familiar problems. Here’s what you need to know about excessive, employee absenteeism. 

1. Negative Workplace Culture

One of the ways a positive work culture sets itself apart is by respecting everyone and making room for everyone’s contributions. When there’s conflict, it gets worked out professionally. Seems fair enough, right?

In a negative workplace, people are often afraid of speaking up about issues that need attention. Sure, there might be an “open door policy” that is spoken about, but there’s a silent fear of retaliation toward those who speak up. 

Employees in a negative workplace culture will call off more often than those in positive work environments. Working to improve your overall company culture is one of the best ways to improve employee morale


2. Minor Illnesses

Encouraging your employees to live a healthier lifestyle may lower the amount of time they miss work. This is because minor illnesses are one of the major causes of absenteeism. Minor illnesses, such as colds, flu, or gastrointestinal issues, are a common cause of absenteeism at work. Even though these ailments are typically not severe, they can cause discomfort and decreased productivity. This prompts individuals to stay home to rest and recover.

Additionally, contagious illnesses can spread quickly in close quarters, leading to more absences. Employers should encourage those suffering from such illnesses to stay home to prevent further transmission, increasing absenteeism rates. 

Another reason to encourage ill employees to stay home is to prevent presenteeism. Presenteeism refers to the lost productivity that happens when employees are not working to their full capacity because of an illness, injury, or other condition. When an employee is working when they are ill, the odds of them and others missing more time increases.

Be sure to give your sick employees enough time to recover from their illnesses. Encourage them to get better before they return to prevent them from missing more work.


3. Disengagement

If you have a staff that is not actively engaged with their work, you may also have a problem with chronic absenteeism. That is because disengagement is one of the major reasons employees make it a habit of missing work. The bad news is that a large number of the workforce feel disengaged from their work. 

In fact, one poll found that 51% of employees are disengaged in the workplace, while 13% are actively disengaged. When an employee is disengaged, they are not passionate, enthusiastic, or want to contribute their best to their job. In other words, they have mentally “checked out”. However, actively disengaged employees are the biggest threat to your business. These employees are no longer happy with their jobs and are looking for a way to get out.

There are many reasons for low employee engagement. For example, the lack of opportunities makes employees less likely to give their all. Another reason is the lack of recognition in the workplace. Also, poor communication by leadership can cause employees to become disengaged.

Providing opportunities for team members to develop, bring their ideas, or network can provide different ways for people to overcome disengagement. Different strategies will work for different people, as people have different motivations.


4. Burnout

Burnout can cause physical illness. It can also make existing issues worse. People who are close to burnout or already in a burnout phase may develop attendance issues.

Here are some ways to intervene positively:

  • Provide fair amounts of sick days, vacation days, and personal days.
  • Encourage all employees to use their allotted time off.
  • Have conversations with employees individually if you see signs of burnout.


5. Employee Schedule

A schedule that’s a poor fit may be another cause of absenteeism. Employees may have issues outside of work that make it difficult for them to arrive on time. And, rather than seeing this as “their problem,” you can try to give employees flexibility. This will not only reduce attendance issues, but it will create goodwill and improve employee loyalty.

Also, sudden schedule changes can result in absences if employees are unable to adjust their personal plans accordingly. A lack of transparency and predictability in scheduling can harm employees who can not adjust to the change quickly.

As a leader or supervisor, it is important to monitor how you create a schedule. Irregular schedules, mandatory overtime, or too many consecutive shifts can lead to fatigue, stress, and burnout. All of which increases the likelihood that employees will take unscheduled time off. 


6. Employee Job Searching

In today’s economy, job security is rare. Younger workers in particular are aware of the possibility of layoffs and job reductions. Employees who have moved up through the ranks may see that they have advanced as high as they can. Even if the company has been good to them, they may want an opportunity that simply isn’t available.

If an employee has rarely used any time off – and is suddenly burning through their vacation time – this could be a sign that he or she is job searching. Although it’s not the only possibility, it’s certainly one explanation for absenteeism.


7. Employee Conflicts

Conflicts between team members – or even conflicts between an employee and a supervisor – can be a source of unplanned absences. When conflict is left unresolved, or when the individuals attempt to resolve it in an unhealthy manner, a neutral party may need to get involved. 

One example of this might be if two employees have a romantic history and have broken up. If they’re unable to leave their differences outside the office, one or both may need to transfer jobs to refocus on work.

Another example of conflict might be if an employee loses the promotion he or she desired. If the employee can’t come to terms with the decision being final, he or she may express discontent toward a newly promoted supervisor. Employees not getting along will lead to employees not wanting to be around each other.


8. Depression and Stress

Depression and stress are significant factors contributing to absenteeism at work. When a person has feelings of sadness, lack of interest in activities, and difficulty concentrating, it can make it challenging for them to perform their daily tasks effectively. Meanwhile, stress, particularly when chronic, can lead to physical health problems like headaches, fatigue, and sleep disturbances, as well as mental issues like anxiety and burnout.

These conditions can result in employees feeling overwhelmed, less motivated, and unable to focus, making them more likely to miss work. Leaders can help mitigate this by creating a supportive work environment that encourages open dialogue about mental health, provides necessary resources, and promotes work-life balance.


Employee absenteeism can be a troublesome problem, but it isn’t impossible to solve. Becoming aware of some common culprits will empower your organization to build into its culture strategies that will decrease the odds of employees leaving you in a tough spot. This will decrease your absenteeism rate and increase productivity. For some more ways to increase the attendance of your workforce, read our article 6 Ways to Deal With Employee Absenteeism.


Erin Shelby on TwitterErin Shelby on Wordpress
Erin Shelby
Team Writer: Erin Shelby is a writer and blogger based in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @ByErinShelby

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Find Your Way · Grow Your Business · Leading Your Team · Productivity

Team Writer: Erin Shelby is a writer and blogger based in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @ByErinShelby

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