There are ways to help your staff manage their absenteeism

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Monday, Jul 08, 2024

Sometimes your staff will get sick and need time-off, but occasionally they might try to “pull a sickie”.

And once they know they can get away with it, some employees may start to abuse that and start taking more unauthorised absences.

Dealing with frequent absences can be difficult, as you don’t want to punish someone who has genuinely been unable to work.

In this guide we’ll explain what absenteeism is, it’s effects and causes, and give advice on how you can reduce absenteeism in the workplace.

What is Absenteeism?

Absenteeism is when an employee is habitually absent from work.

Typically, absenteeism refers to a frequent lack of attendance—rather than authorised absences or irregular, unavoidable issues, such as sickness.

But you should track staff attendance and keep an eye on repeated absence from work.

If you notice a pattern, you can work out the absenteeism rate for your workforce.

Effects of Absenteeism in the Workplace

Absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace both have similar effects. An absentee will be less productive, and over time can become less engaged with their work, or your business.

And someone taking multiple absences from work will impact more than just the individual.

Other employees will notice when one of their colleagues is frequently absent. This can cause resentment and affect the motivation of your whole team.

Absenteeism will also affect your company’s bottom-line. Less available workers mean less people to complete revenue-generating activities. The lost productivity can also result in complaints from unhappy customers.

Not only that, but you might be forced to spend money on overtime pay to cover the absentee’s role.

Causes of Chronic Absenteeism

Absentees are often facing issues that make them want to avoid the workplace.

There are many causes for frequent absenteeism, including:

  • Bullying and harassment: Conflict is inevitable in a workplace, but if it progresses and you don’t intervene, staff can become very unhappy and may feel unsafe coming to work.
  • Stress and burnout: Whether brought on by their work or due to personal reasons, stress can have a significant impact on an individual. Feeling burnt out can make employees feel disengaged with their work, and stress can make you ill.
  • Low morale: Burnout can cause low morale, but it’s not the only cause. A lack of motivation can also occur when your staff feel undervalued.
  • Depression or anxiety: You’ll probably have a robust sick leave policy. But does it include mental health issues? There’s a stigma attached to depression and anxiety that leaves many people feeling unable to ask for help.
  • Childcare: Family will always come first, and if an employee is struggling to find childcare, their work will suffer.

There’s no need to be alarmed if an employee is unable to work from time to time. Your staff will get sick, and other things will come up that prevent them from working.

There are many valid reasons for a leave of absence from work, including:

Businesses can have different rules for absence. As an employer, it’s up to you to decide what you deem acceptable reasons for absence from work. You should confirm this in your absence management policy.

How to Reduce Absenteeism

By understanding the issues, you can begin to fix them and improve employee attendance.

There are many different strategies to reduce employee absenteeism and enhance retention. The most effective technique will always be the one that directly helps with the problem causing your employee’s attendance level to drop.

Below we’ve listed a number of absence management methods to show you how to handle absenteeism problems.

Create a Clear Absence Management Policy

As mentioned previously, it’s up to you to decide what counts as a reasonable absence. And you need to make sure your employees know the process of reporting an absence.

You should create a clear policy that explains the procedure workers should follow to report an absence, including who to speak to and the preferred method of contact.

The policy should provide details for all types of leave, including sickness, care for dependents, and bereavement leave.

Your absence management policy should also set out the process for investigating excessive absences, and consequences for people found to be abusing the policy.

Allow flexible working and remote work options

A lot of the time when unauthorised absences occur, it’s because the worker’s life gets in the way.

Whether it’s childcare issues, car trouble, or medical appointments, allowing flexible working means your staff can plan the work day around their other responsibilities.

Flexi-time and the ability to work from home gives workers a better work-life balance, which can also help with morale issues and burnout.

Explore options to improve employee wellbeing

Employee wellbeing can cover physical health, emotional wellbeing, and personal development. That means there are many approaches you can take.

Try to identify the most important issues in your business and invest in ways to tackle that first. The best way to do that is by asking your staff. A staff engagement survey gives your employees an opportunity to tell you about the things they aren’t happy with.

If you’re unsure about what you should prioritise, or your staff have a number of different issues, an employee assistance programme (EAP) can provide them with personalised support from an experienced counsellor.

Hold regular one-to-one meetings with staff

Good employee relations are crucial for keeping morale high and being able to solve problems for your staff.

By having regular one-to-one meetings with employees, you’re able to discuss their workload and find out about any problems they have. Which can allow you to solve the issues quickly.

When an employee has low attendance, you can use these catchups to address the issue and request more details about their absence.

How to Address Absenteeism with an Employee

It’s important to discuss the issues as soon as you notice absence patterns. But you need to do this the correct way.

Many absent employees will have a genuine reason, so you need a policy that allows you to investigate potential issues without making accusations.

You need to:

  • Schedule a return to work meeting as soon as possible: It’s a good way to check on people with a genuine reason for absence, and the attention paid could deter absentees.
  • Keep it informal: You mustn’t make the return to work meeting feel like a disciplinary or punishment. Use it to gather evidence and support their return to work.
  • Try to solve problems: If there doesn’t seem to be a genuine reason for the absence, try to find out about issues the employee is having and address them.

If you follow these steps and the absenteeism persists, you should gather all the evidence and arrange a formal meeting.

Gather the data from your clocking in system, and compile any notes from your previous meetings. In this formal meeting, you should go through the occurrences, set out your expectations, and the consequences if their attendance doesn’t improve.

Terminating an Employee for Excessive Absenteeism

If you’ve followed these steps and the employee’s attendance doesn’t improve, you might have to consider dismissal.

If you decide to terminate the employee’s contract, you need to be clear on the reasons. Otherwise you could face an employment tribunal and unfair dismissal claims.

There are a few possible fair reasons for dismissal involving absenteeism:

  • Conduct: When an employee has been dishonest about their reason for absence.
  • Capability: If frequent absences mean the employee is unable to complete their work duties.
  • Some other substantial reason (SOSR): Where their low attendance is harmful to your business.

You must follow a fair dismissal procedure. Even if you have a fair reason for dismissal, your decision could be overturned at a tribunal if you don’t follow the correct process.

Get Help with Absenteeism Today with BrightHR

Regular absences can cause havoc for your business. They can reduce productivity, create resentment with your other employees, and cost you money in having to cover shifts.

You need to gather evidence before you accuse an employee of taking time-off without a genuine reason.

Get BrightHR’s absence management software to easily track when your staff are off work. You can view the data in the easy to use software or export it to help you prepare for a meeting about absenteeism. Plus, you’ll get access to our full suite of HR tools, including our staff holiday planner, and clocking in app, Blip.

Book in a free demo today to see just how easy it is to manage HR with our app. Give us a call on 0800 783 2806.

Frequently Asked Questions about Absenteeism

Our clients ask a lot of questions about absenteeism. We’ve answered some of the most common ones below.

Not found an answer to your question? Bright Lightning answers thousands of employment questions in seconds.

What causes absenteeism?

Absenteeism can be caused by several reasons including:

• Family-related issues. • Workplace harassment. • Illness. • Job hunting. • Negative self-image or self-esteem. • Lack of interest in the job. • Injuries.

Absenteeism can cause a productivity problem, if an employee doesn’t show up to work for periods of time. As an employer, invest some time in to why your employee is not showing up to work.

This can increase morale within your team and solve productivity issues.

What is absenteeism in the workplace?

Absenteeism is the extended absence from work that goes beyond a period of time. This could be due to a holiday, illness or taking personal time.

Lucy Cobb

Employment Law Specialist

Share this article

Have a question?

Ask away, we’ve got lightning fast answers for UK business owners and employers powered by qualified experts.

More on leave and absence

Someone at the beach on Annual Leave

Leave at Work

As an employer, there will be times when some of your employees require time away from the company. And when this happens, its important youre ...

Read more about Leave at Work

Paternity leave

Supporting your employees through major life events is not only compassionate but also essential for fostering a positive work environment. One ...

Read more about Paternity leave


As an employer, you must include several terms of employment in an employee’s contract. There may be occasions when an employee is asked to work ...

Read more about Overtime
father holding two children in a flower field

Adoption Leave

For many people across the UK - adopting a child is the realisation of a lifelong dream. But when the adoption goes through, you have a legal duty ...

Read more about Adoption Leave