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  • 26 April 2023
  • 10 months

Absenteeism in the Workplace

Emily Fournier

Marketing Specialist

Super Bowl Sunday: The unofficial national holiday of the United States, more revered than Independence Day, or perhaps even Christmas, by many. This year, the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles drew more than 113 million viewers—more than a third of the total US population.

And while most of those viewers—like the majority of US workers—had that Sunday off to party with their friends and family and yell at their TV, a survey conducted by the Workforce Institute and the Harris Poll found that over 17 million viewers who tuned in to watch the big game that night were skipping work to do so. Even more alarming, the survey also found that close to 19 million employed Americans planned on missing work the following Monday, while nearly half of them said they intended to either “ghost” their employer or fake sick to get out of work.

This phenomenon is not new, but rather, an annual occurrence that the Workforce Institute has been tracking since 2005. In fact, its research shows that nearly two in five US employees admit to missing work or going in late on Super Bowl Monday at least once in their lives, as part of a growing trend the Institute aptly refers to as a “super absence spike.” And while the circumstances around this spike in absence might make it seem like just a one-off event, a closer look into respondents’ reasoning for skipping points to a much larger issue that impacts more than just the US: and that issue is culture.

Rates of absenteeism are rising around the world, costing the global economy trillions of dollars and resulting in the loss of billions of workdays each year, research from the APA and WHO shows. But as is the case for the Super Bowl Sunday and Monday skippers, these absences aren’t due to sickness or reasonable circumstances: rather, they’re the result of problems at work, and are perhaps the most obvious or visible signs of disconnect between employers and their workforce.

Just as the newest Workforce Institute survey discovered a significant—and growing—lack of trust and transparency between managers and employees and found that more than a third of US employees feel uncomfortable asking their managers for time off, virtually almost every root cause most associated with chronic or excessive absenteeism revolve around a work-related issue of some sort: from demanding workloads to low job autonomy, from workplace bullying to abusive bosses, or from inflexible schedules to inadequate benefits. Whatever the case may be, a high rate of absenteeism means that something in the organization isn’t working, and more importantly, needs to be changed.

To do this, employers need to understand:

  • What absenteeism is, and more importantly, what it does.
  • What factors or conditions are driving absenteeism in their particular workplace.
  • How they can measure it.
  • What they can do to resolve and prevent it.

What is Absenteeism: Costs and Consequences

According to the APA, absenteeism is an unjustified absence from work, especially when regular or persistent. Unlike planned or “reasonable” absences, such as scheduled leaves, paid time off, vacations or holidays, legitimate sicknesses, medical appointments, or the occasional unplanned absence due to unforeseen circumstances like car accidents or car problems, disruptions to child or eldercare, deaths or illnesses in the family, or injuries, these types of “unjustifiable” absences stem from avoidable or preventable circumstances, namely things like:

  • Fear
  • Stress
  • Burnout
  • Disengagement
  • Dissatisfaction
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Poor or lack of sleep
  • Poor or chronic health issues

And due to their unplanned and habitual nature, they come at considerable costs to employers. This is especially the case in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which rates of absenteeism have doubled and, in some cases, even tripled from pre-pandemic levels. In the US, for instance, where the rate of absence jumped from 3.2 percent in 2021 to over 6 percent in 2022, the cost of unscheduled absenteeism is estimated to exceed a whopping 600 billion a year, with an average cost of $4,080 per full-time employee and $2,040 per part-time worker. Over in Europe, where average rates similarly ebb between 3 to 6 percent, the total cost of absence is estimated to be 2.5 percent of GDP per year, amounting to 420 billion pounds.

Unsurprisingly, these costs—accrued in terms of lost productivity, increased healthcare spending, overtime pay, and freelance or temp hires—can have a damaging effect on organizations’ profitability. In fact, in a recent Moorepay report, 70 percent of UK small to medium-sized employers said that absenteeism was shrinking their profit margins, while the UIA posits that unplanned absences result in a conservative 5 percent decrease in profit per employee, although that number likely sits much higher for manufacturing, software engineering, consulting, or sales industries, for instance, in which employees are expected to sell services or build and deliver a product, and can lose clients, damage the organization’s reputation, and decrease revenue as a result of untimely, reoccurring, and unexpected absences.

But not only does absenteeism directly impact the absent employee’s performance, but it also creates a costly ripple effect inhibiting that of the absentee’s peers, teams, supervisors, and the organization at large. When employers lack the manpower to fill in the gaps left by an absent worker, the burden is placed on that worker’s peers or team to pick up the slack, adding to their own workload, their time spent at work, and most consequentially, to their own stress levels—all of which can greatly reduce their productivity. In fact, according to SHRM, US employers can expect their staff to be roughly 37 percent less productive when covering for an absent coworker, while their supervisors also experience a near 16 percent drop in productivity as a result of having to adjust workflows and reassign or take over certain tasks.

As this occurs over time, coworkers and supervisors left behind to pick up the slack run the risk of burning themselves out—one of the leading causes of absenteeism—or losing motivation or interest in the work. Additionally, these extra responsibilities can stir up resentment among workers toward their peers who they perceive to be getting away with “slacking off,” creating a culture of animosity, distrust, and competition, all of which further reduce workers’ perceived sense of psychological safety and security at work, thus creating a seemingly never-ending cycle of absenteeism.

That said, in order to curb the spread of absenteeism in their workplace, leaders need to turn their attention toward organization-wide efforts; absenteeism is almost never an individual or isolated issue. While the conditions influencing one employee’s decision to miss work can vary drastically from those of another one of their peers, as long as such conditions or risk factors go unchanged, leaders will only be making room for further instances. To reduce absenteeism in the long-term, leaders need to be willing to make substantial and systemic changes to their workplace—and with that, comes the responsibility of knowing what exact conditions of their workplace need to be addressed.

What Causes Absenteeism

No one wants to work anymore,” is a complaint that’s been made incessantly since the onset of the pandemic, following trends such as the “Great Resignation,” “quiet-quitting,” a decline in labor force participation, and, of course, a rise in absenteeism.

But it’s just not true.

Meaningful work is essential to one’s sense of fulfillment. Decades of research from Gallup has shown that career wellbeing, defined as one’s ability to like what he or she does every day—has the strongest impact on overall wellbeing, doubling people’s likelihood of thriving in their overall life. Whenever Gallup asks people what they want most in life, the most common reply is always “a good job.” In fact, Gallup surveys of German and US workers have found that most employees say they would continue to work even if they had enough money that they no longer needed to.

With that in mind, employers can be rest assured that it’s not laziness that’s keeping their workers out of the office (or away from their at-home workspace). Unfortunately, however, this won’t—or shouldn’t—bring employers too much comfort, considering that the more likely reasons behind their absence or work-aversion have more to do with them than many may realize or care to admit.

To that point, the following are just some of the many work-related factors considered leading the surge in absenteeism in 2023:

  • Long COVID. With Germany lifting its mask mandate back in February, pandemic-era restrictions are now in the rearview for most, if not all, of North America and Europe; COVID, on the other hand, is most certainly not. While too much is still unknown to posit an accurate figure, the latest data from the CDC estimates that 50 million people—or 15 percent of the total US population—have long COVID, best defined as a concoction of long-term symptoms, conditions, and other post-viral syndromes that continue or develop in the weeks, months, or even years following an initial COVID infection. In Europe, it is estimated that over 17 million people were affected by long COVID in the first two years of the pandemic alone.

And while this illness is wreaking havoc on people’s health and wellbeing, it’s also doing a number on the workplace. According to an Expert Market’s Employee Absence Study conducted between December 2022 and January 2023, COVID and Long COVID were cited as the main culprits behind long-term absenteeism by nearly three-fifths of the 50 North American and European employers Expert Market surveyed—placing them above workplace stress and burnout, poor mental health, and disruptions to family care, all long-since considered to be the driving forces behind workplace absenteeism. In the UK alone, it is estimated that absences caused by long COVID costed employers about 8 billion pounds in 2022.

Although people are at risk of developing COVID or long COVID no matter where they are, it is imperative—if not obligatory—that employers address how their workplace may be exacerbating such risk and contributing to the conditions that lead long-haulers to become chronically absent from the workplace. This may include creating an unsafe environment by removing protections like mask or vaccine mandates, routine testing, adequate sick leave, air ventilation, and other related mitigations. Or it may also include failing to provide reasonable accommodations like flextime, work-from-home opportunities, lighter workloads, or sufficient return-to- and stay-at-work programs.

  • Chronic illness or injury; Sickness presenteeism. According to the social determinants of health model, work can have one of if not the largest impact on a person’s health; in fact, work is considered to be the primary cause of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)—the leading cause of disability worldwide—which most commonly includes ergonomic issues like chronic hand, back, or neck pain. Research shows that work-related MSDs cost employers between $45 to $54 billion a year in the US alone, which includes over 200 million workdays lost each year. There are a number of work-related factors or conditions that are most commonly attributed to MSDs, including:
    • Handling heavy loads or machinery
    • Repetitive lifting, pushing, and pulling or awkward body movement
    • Overuse or overexertion of muscles
    • Prolonged sitting or standing
    • Poor or unsafe workstation layout or job design
    • Working at fast or high-speeds, as well as pressure to produce
    • Working long hours
    • Lack of breaks or opportunities to recover

Within workplaces where high rates of chronic or excessive absenteeism are already present, having to hire temp or contract workers or asking coworkers to fill in for the absent peers can result in further risks of workplace accidents and injuries (and the additional absences they generate) if such workers are not properly trained or lack experience needed to operate heavy machinery or perform the manual tasks the job entails.

Another workplace issue that is associated with avoidable chronic health issues and excessive absences is presenteeism: defined as when a person continues to work despite being sick. According to SHRM, more than nine in 10 workers are guilty of going to work sick, the leading cause of this being an ostensible fear or resistance toward using a sick day. But while they might continue to report to work at the time, extensive amounts of research clearly show that presenteeism leads to absenteeism at a later date. Workplace factors most commonly associated with presenteeism include:

  • Poor management styles; including a Draconian attitude toward absences
  • Tight work deadlines or heavy workloads
  • Leader presenteeism
  • Heavy workloads, high job demands, and low autonomy. According to WPO’s own research, one of the most telling variables when it comes to analyzing the rate of absence is the relationship between the perception of workload and the perception of the social environment. As demonstrated by Karasek’s famed job demands-control model, the combination of various organizational factors like heavy workloads and light deadlines with psychosocial factors like level of autonomy, self-efficacy, skills development opportunities, and managerial support can have an overwhelming impact on the state of employees’ When employees are faced with demanding job requests, heavy workloads, little to no control over tasks, and a perceived lack of support from their managers or teams, their stress levels tend to increase, resulting in burnout, sicknesses or injuries, and of course, absenteeism.

Despite many previously brushing off skyrocketing levels of burnout as a “trend to be expected” as a result of the pandemic, surveys conducted at the start of the year indicate that these rising rates of burnout show no signs of slowing; in fact, in Expert Market’s Employee Absence Survey, “workplace stress/burnout” was the second-most stated reason for absenteeism by nearly half of all respondents. After pandemic restrictions were lifted, employers noted that their employees found it difficult to return to their once-normal work routine—particularly the increased workloads, standard office hours, and commute times, all of which disillusion employees from the freedom, flexibility, and autonomy they felt that they had when working from home.

As a result of burnout, it is estimated that more than one million Americans miss work every day, resulting in 550 million lost workdays and over $500 billion in lost productivity each year, while over in the UK, workplace stress and burnout cost employers more than 15 million workdays and over 26 billion pounds a year.

  • Lack of recognition. Like demanding, dismissive, and demoralizing bosses, a lack of recognition has a direct impact on absenteeism, research shows. According to Christian Mainguy, Senior Global Consultant at WPO, “the first cause of disengagement is oftentimes a lack of recognition. ‘I am not valued in what I do,’ ‘I do not get positive feedback from my manager,’ ‘My manager is never happy.’ Sentiments like these very often cause workers to become disengaged and detached from their work.”

And according to new insights from Gallup, this sense of disengagement and dissatisfaction is on the rise: over 60 percent of people reported being emotionally detached at work—including half of all workers in the US alone—per Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 report, and the number one cited cause for these feelings ultimately came down to poor or unfair treatment at work: lack of manager support, lack of contribution acknowledgement (I.e. recognition), unclear communication from managers, and favoritism. In fact, Gallup has found that manager or team leaders alone account for 70 percent of the variance in worker engagement; in other words, how one leads and treats their employees is perhaps one of the strongest predictors of worker absenteeism.

This is especially an issue for remote workers, researchers find. Although work-from-home opportunities and flexibility are widely revered and sought-after perks that employees say make them feel valued or supported by leadership, over time, this physical disconnect from their peers and leaders starts to get to them, especially when they feel that their contributions aren’t valued as much as those of their more visible peers. As Mainguy explains, “In my experience managing people for some period of time, I saw an increase in productivity at first because they felt happy and recognized: ‘This is great, my employer is giving me the green light to work away from the office so I can stay with my father,’ or [whatever their reason to work from home is]. But on the medium- to long-term, there is a disengagement because the social connection is not there anymore.” And soon, that disengagement turns into excessive absences.

  • Bullying, harassment, and conflicts at work. Perhaps another strong predictor of absenteeism is toxicity in the workplace; specifically, the prevalence of bullying, harassment, abusive bosses, and interpersonal conflicts with peers. According to a recent study conducted among UK employees, nearly three-quarters of respondents admitted to having called in sick in order to avoid a coworker they had a negative relationship with, while over 60 percent of those who experienced harassment, bullying, or discrimination at work had to take a long-term leave as a result. Overall, current estimates posit that workplace bullying and harassment cause UK employers to lose nearly 19 million workdays each year at a cost of 14 billion pounds.

According to Mainguy’s research, such characteristics of a toxic workplace environment can also make it harder for employees to return to the office after a longer period of absence, especially if their reason for taking leave had to do with conflicts at work. When employees return to an unchanged office culture and consequently feel unsupported and unvalued by their teams and supervisors, they are likely to “relapse” and stay home from work.

  • Career changes or transitions, workplace transformations, and inadequate training or skills-development. According to WPO’s own workplace insights, one of the top five workplace concerns impacting employees around the world is about career change or transition. This includes re-entering the workforce after an absence, changes to roles or duties, changes to the organizational model, workstation layout, or job design, and the like—all of which can leave employees feeling stressed and overwhelmed if they feel as though they are not prepared or have not been trained to adjust to these new conditions or return to work. This is most often seen when an organization adopts new technology into its operations but fails to properly coach its workforce on how to use it. This is something that Mainguy can attest to: “We had a client that had high absenteeism on its telephone platform. We assessed the situation and saw that it was a consequence of the new Chatbot technology [in which] the easiest calls were filtered, [meaning] that the people on the platform were only getting the most difficult calls, [resulting in] a cognitive overload.”

“We are all okay in our work to do something difficult and something easy, and if we have a good balance between the very difficult and the very easy, we can make it work,” he explains. “But if you only get tough calls to handle, that’s when issues like burnout or absenteeism [start to pop up].”

In a white paper recently penned on the topic of absenteeism, Mainguy also explains how poor return-to-work or re-integration strategies—or lack thereof—can create a risk of excessive absenteeism, stating, “the longer the period of absence, the more difficult it is to return to work…Often, employees returning to work after a long period of absence have to put in extra effort to be able to take up their post fully on their return. This leads to a risk of exhaustion, and as a result, of relapse.”

He further notes, “what makes long-term sick leave different is the fact that the person will not return to work in the same way as when they went on leave. The workforce, too, will have changed to adapt to the person’s absence. If the team is not involved in the process, there will be mistakes and missteps, which can make relapse more likely.”

  • Inadequate benefits and accommodations. A record-high 104,000 US employees missed work during a single week this past October due to childcare breakdowns, findings from the US Census Bureau Overall, an overwhelming 85 percent of parents admit that problems with childcare hurt their efforts and time commitment at work, while over half report having to miss work as a result, costing their employers over $23 billion a year. In fact, while it is common for employees to miss work for self-care reasons, it is becoming increasingly common for them to miss work in order to take care of family, as child- and eldercare services continue to soar. In Expert Market’s Employee Absence Study, more than a third of organizations cited ‘family care’ as a leading factor driving absenteeism in late 2022/early 2023. And while more employers are now beginning to offer on-site daycare services or subsidies to offset costs, it’s clear that organizations are not doing enough to support their caregiving employees and ensure that they’re able to come in to work.

Not only that, but continuous research also shows that inadequate mental health benefits—or even poor communication of such benefits—are adversely impacting employees’ wellbeing and engagement, driving absenteeism. According to Gallup, employees who rate their mental health as fair or poor miss four times more work compared to their mentally-well peers—averaging at about 12 days of unplanned absences a year, compared to 2.5 days for the average worker. And according to these employees, the absence of easily accessible mental health support services—or the lack of knowledge as to whether such services exist—share a large part of the blame for such outcomes. As a result, Gallup estimates that absences due to poor mental health cost the US economy more than $47.6 billion a year—although that number jumps to a whopping $1 trillion for the global economy.

Understanding the Data: The Importance of Consulting

When it comes to addressing absenteeism in the workplace, it is imperative that it’s monitored properly. This may prove challenging for organizations attempting to track absences on their own, especially when it comes to discerning which absences are legitimate (as many are) and which are not; a single mistake or “educated” yet inevitably faulty guess can bring about enormous consequences, such as if an employer were to coerce an alleged “illegitimate absentee” to come to work only to find out that they were indeed sick, putting the entire workforce at risk of falling ill themselves and resulting in a wave of additional absences—not to mention those than an “unsafe work environment” and “uncaring boss” would later inspire. And while employers can certainly attempt to talk with employees about their reasons for missing work, if those reasons have to do with conditions of the workplace—like toxic bosses, peers, and unfair or unrealistic expectations—it’s unlikely that enough employees would be willing to disclose that information for any real change to occur.

To that point, experts like Mainguy underscore the benefits of hiring consultants to come in and help organizations track the types of absences present in the workplace and, more importantly, to help determine what’s causing them. As Mainguy explains, consultants help organizations develop efficient ways of tracking their own data, answering essential questions like “Where?” “Who?” “What type of jobs?” “Which age group, gender, race, etc.?” “How long are people absent for?” and “How often?”

From there, consultants help organizations get to the “Why?” by bringing in business psychologists to perform field analysis of the risk factors influencing absence rates or trends such as by having one-to-one or group conversations with employees and conducting department- and organization-wide surveys that allow employees to be more vocal and honest about their grievances with their organization—without having to worry about facing repercussions for doing so.

Using this objective dual understanding of absenteeism (with both qualitative and quantitative data), consultants then share the results with clients and recommend operational actions tailored specifically to the context of their workplace. This includes advice on how to resolve absenteeism for the long-term, including how organizations can continue to measure and manage absences on their own once the consultants’ work is finished.

Research suggests that when employers elicit the help of a third-party to address absenteeism, organizations can:

  • Reduce direct and indirect costs of specific programs by up to 25 percent
  • Reduce absence rates by up to 35 percent
  • Improve return-to-work rates and reduce duration of absences by 1-2 months
  • Increase employee engagement by at least 10 percent
  • Avoid costly claims and lawsuits
  • Improve retention rates
  • Attract and keep new talent

How to Address Employee Absenteeism

While the “best practices” that leaders can adopt to reduce absenteeism within their own organizations will vary (and furthermore, will be best determined with the help of a third-party consultant), experts—including members of Forbes Human Resources Council—frequently point to several key actions that all employers can take to effectively target and prevent chronic absenteeism in their workplace:

  • Lead with compassion. If there’s one business model that’s been touted around as the solution to nearly every problem in the workplace, it’s compassionate leadership—and for good reason. Countless studies conducted over the years have highlighted the numerous benefits that compassionate leadership brings to the workplace, including less burnout or emotional exhaustion, higher job satisfaction, greater trust and loyalty, enhanced motivation, and, of course, lower absenteeism. According to researchers with the Harvard Business Review, compassion can perhaps best be understood as empathy in action; not only do leaders sympathize with and understand what their employees are going through or how they might feel, but they also do something to show it.

When it comes to reducing absenteeism, this can include leaders “leading by example” and staying home when their sick and practicing compassion for themselves—signaling to their employees that it’s okay for them to put their needs first and stay home when they’re sick or if they just need a day to get some good R&R. It also means frequently checking in with employees and making sure that they know that they won’t be reprimanded for asking for a day off or taking a sick day; and when employees confront management about issues they may be having at home that are interfering with their ability to work, leaders can practice compassion by frequently checking in with them to see how things are going and if there’s anything that they can do to help.

  • Communicate clearly. While compassionate leadership is imperative to creating an open and honest culture in which employees are encouraged to be transparent about their reasons for needing a day off, another piece essential to building that culture is clear communication from leadership. This includes clearly communicating expectations for attendance and what the protocols are for if employees need to call in sick or request a longer leave. It also includes improving communications around role expectations, organizational goals and what the organization’s mission is, and, crucially, what benefits are available to employees and how they can go about accessing them.
  • Offer flexibility. One of the most sought-after and effective perks that employers can provide to their workforce in an effort to reduce absenteeism and increase performance and engagement is flexible work schedules, which includes the opportunity to work-from-home when needed, start and end the workday later or earlier as needed, and attend appointments or attend to family as needed. According to a 2021 study from McKinsey, about one in five children miss 15 days or more of school each year. This is bound to have an adverse effect on their parents’ ability to make it to the office for all 15 or more of those days. With a flexible work schedule, these working parents can be rest assured that if they need to stay home and care for their sick kid, it bears no consequence on their workday or reputation at work: they can simply work from home. Not only does this reduce the number of absences due to childcare disruptions, but it also prevents the risk of burnout or psychological distress that missing work can cause, which oftentimes result in additional absences later on.
  • Expand benefits offerings. Research examining the root causes of the Great Resignation, quiet-quitting, and burnout trends continuously points to inadequate benefits as a strong indicator of employee satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty. When employees are dissatisfied with their benefits, they tend to be sicker, more stressed, and more likely to miss work for illegitimate circumstances. On the flip side, offering comprehensive benefits packages, including access to mental health care and telehealth services, has been found to reduce absenteeism by up to 60 percent.
  • Provide training and development opportunities. Other prominent benefits that more employers are beginning to offer with great results include professional development opportunities such as free online skills-development courses, traditional instructor-led trainings, and stipends for educational programs. When employers demonstrate a commitment to the personal growth and wellbeing of their employees, their employees feel more motivated to show up to work every day and give it their all, knowing that they have the full support of their leaders. When this core motivation is present, employees feel healthier, happier, and are proven to miss fewer workdays.

Additionally, as Mainguy’s research illustrates, an overwhelming majority of HR directors and employees now cite organizational transformation as their primary concern; namely, employees’ ability to adapt to periods of change, especially as “we enter an era of rapid and complex change, in a context of growing uncertainty and increased demands for performance and instantaneous responses to change.” If employees are not adequately trained—particularly through new forms of learning—Mainguy, along with many other organizational psychologists, hypothesize that employees will inevitably be subjected to mental and cognitive overload, resulting in burnout, sickness, and absenteeism. Thus, it is leaders’  responsibility to anticipate future change, build up employees’ resiliency, and support them through organizational transformations by prioritizing their education and both their personal and professional development.

  • Focus on engagement. As a growing body of research underscores, meaningful work plays an essential role in driving not just employee performance, but their levels of engagement, loyalty, and their overall wellbeing. In fact, research from McKinsey has found that when employees find their work to be meaningful, they are 33 percent more productive, 75 percent more committed to their organization, and are 49 percent less likely to leave. Such positive results also extend to absenteeism, as these experts explain:

“Cultivating strong employee engagement can result in higher productivity, performance and attendance because team members feel ownership over their work and their role in furthering the company’s mission. A highly engaged employee is at lower risk for developing burnout.” —Anna Dearmon Kornick, professional time management coach and head of community for Clockwise (Business.com).

“People work for a paycheck, but nobody lives for money. If employers want to boost attendance, they need to inspire employees with a clear organizational purpose. By establishing and communicating that purpose, team members will be more inspired to show up and deliver incredible work on a regular basis.” —Steve Lowisz, best-selling author, keynote speaker, and human capital exert at Qualigence International (Forbes).

“Engaged employees statistically miss less work. While some use limited paid sick-leave or offer incentives for perfect attendance, these can also adversely influence ill employees to come to work, endangering others. Boosting employee engagement deepens employees’ emotional connection to their work and coworkers, strengthening their internal motivation to be meaningfully present at work.” —Rev. Courtney Pace, PhD, senior consultant at FedEx Employees Credit Association (Forbes).

  • Prioritize psychological and physical safety. Given that workplace stress and work-induced health issues like MSDs are driving forces behind most accidents, injuries, and absences that follow, making workplace safety a top priority is likely to result in significant reductions in absenteeism. Not only does a safe and well-regulated workspace ensure that all operations run smoothly, that accidents and injuries are avoided, and that all employees remain physically-well and protected from harm, but it also boosts morale by reassuring employees that their health and wellbeing is cared for by their employers, which in turn boosts their motivation, their loyalty to their organization, their psychological wellbeing, and consequently, their attendance rate.

To create a safe and healthy workplace, employers can ensure that they maintain legal compliance with OSHA/EA-OSHA, frequently review and update their employee handbooks, ensure that all employees are following the handbook and, most importantly, that they read the handbook. When an employee is injured, ill, or experiencing a physical ailment or chronic health condition of some sort that would pose a threat either to their own or to their colleagues’ safety should they continue to operate heavy machinery or perform extensive manual labor, employers must be adamant about making sure that the employee takes necessary time off to rest and properly recover, and—even more crucially—that their return to work is planned accordingly so that they do not run the risk of reinjury. Employers should also strive to perform routine occupational health assessments, recording employees’ health concerns and testimonies, documenting past or current health or safety issues, and identifying areas for improvement.

  • Cultivate a people-centric culture. Lastly, one of the most overlooked yet most important strategy that employers can implement to reduce absenteeism and strengthen employee motivation and engagement is to cultivate a strong and positive team culture, built around the care and concern for employees as individuals and, better yet, as As Lotus Buckner of Northwest Community Healthcare and member of Forbes HR Council shares, “When people have a team mentality, they don’t have excessive absences because they know how it will negatively impact the team.” She also notes that a strong team culture can also lessen the negative impact that absences have on team performance and output, adding, “when there is a team culture and someone actually needs the excessive absences for good reason, the team is more willing to pick up the slack and it does not interrupt business operations.”

Furthermore, when employees feel as though they are a part of a team, and moreover, a part of an organization in which their health, safety, wellbeing, development, and individual success are considered a success for the organization, they are shown to be more likely to stay with their employer for longer, are proven to be more creative, more innovative, and more driven to perform at their best, and as a result, are less likely to miss work or slack off on the job.

The bottom line here is: how employees are treated greatly impacts an organization’s bottom line, and if they want to see the best results, boast a strong workforce, attendance rate, and performance, they need to make employee wellbeing a top priority.

Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family, and personal needs to become healthier, happier, and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness, and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals, and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. Contact us to learn more. 

This content is intended for general information only. It does not provide specific direction, advice, or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.

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