Employee Absenteeism: what could be causing it, and how to combat it

Harry Simpson

Employee Absenteeism (2)

​Now, I must let you know – this article has been in the works for a little while. That it now happens to be so very relevant, given the current ‘situation’ worldwide (cough, coronavirus), is pure happenstance.

Absenteeism: “the practice of regularly staying away from work or school without good reason.” As a manager, it’s something which (hopefully) doesn’t come up often, but is an issue that we all have to face at one point in our career or another. It’s also something which isn’t widely or openly spoken about – many consider it somewhat ‘taboo’ – however as a leader it can have a significant negative effect on the day to day running of your business.

How so? Well, aside from the potential drop in productivity when a member of staff is off work unwell, it can have a knock-on effect on team morale in general.

Let’s explore the reasons your staff may be feigning a fever to get a day off.

They’re testing the limits

This is realistically the worst case scenario; you’ve made a hire who is undermining themselves and the decision you made to bring them on board. But give them the benefit of the doubt and make sure you document their behaviour, look out for the tell-tale signs that you might soon recognise are leading to an early morning text… And don’t leave it too long to approach them about it, lest you leave the rest of the team getting, frankly, annoyed about it too.

Lack of motivation

If a person is demotivated at work, it shows – and eventually could lead to continued absenteeism. As a manager it’s your job to monitor, identify and understand those who aren’t feeling motivated; it’ll show in their attitude day-to-day, the speed with which they work, the effort they put into their job. Is someone procrastinating while they are in the office, then failing to show up altogether from time to time?

It’s your job as a manager to motivate and drive your team – if that’s not happening, you need to get to the bottom of why. If you can see the signs whilst they’re in the office, it’s crucial to address them quickly and see what changes could be made to get them back on top of their game – and not feeling as though they just “can’t be bothered” to show up.

Mental health

The plain truth is that in a lot of instances, if your employee is taking extended periods off work or regularly skipping a day here and there, there’s probably an underlying issue which needs to be addressed – in the correct way.

Sometimes, the stress just gets too much. Sometimes we all wake up unable to crawl out of the right side of the bed, get dressed and head into another day of work. Sometimes, it’s even worse than that.

In general, throughout 2020 (and beyond for that matter), ensuring that your workplace is trying to break all stigma attached to mental health couldn’t be more important. As for individual staff, the matter calls for the utmost in sensitivity; bear in mind that, even when approached directly, it’s not necessarily something your employee will want to talk to you about. Promote transparency and openness, and a non-judgemental culture overall. All you can do as a good manager is make sure they know that the door is open, if and when they need you for support.

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The truth is, there will never be a way to entirely wipe out those cheeky “sick days” which are really dedicated to nursing a killer hangover, or the Fridays off which happen to coincide with the hottest day of the year so far… But, it is prudent to understand when the reasons behind them are deeper than wanting a “personal day” spent down the pub. If this is what’s happening, don’t condone it by pleading ignorance; but you need to identify the patterns of behaviour and address them with each employee individually.

Like many issues, talking about it is a good place to start – so let’s share our funniest stories, worst sick day excuses and top tips here. As a business leader, how do you approach employee absenteeism?