What is Absenteeism and How to Fight It?

Author: Eugenija Steponkute
Published: 06/08/2018

If you work in HR, are a manager or are the owner of the company, you most likely ran into absenteeism. Whether you were able to identify it or not, is another story. In this article, we will give you pointers on how to spot it moving forward and what to do to avoid it.

There’s a big difference between employees taking time off and calling in for emergencies or sick days. When it’s annual leave they are legally entitled to, you get to approve it in advance and plan ahead how to run your processes with a lesser workforce.

When they call in sick or have an emergency leave, however, you are put on a spot. While you cannot reject it due to the risk of it being genuine, there’s always a chance of your workers wanting a day off without dipping into their holiday allowance. This malpractice has a name - absenteeism.

What is Absenteeism?

Absenteeism is when employees are regularly absent from work without a valid reason. It’s a problem for organisations of all sizes as it inflicts damage on multiple aspects of the business.

What Makes it Harmful?

Absenteeism can cause numerous issues for managers and their teams; workflow is disrupted, productivity is impacted, and employees who do make it into the office find themselves under increased pressure to cover the surplus work.

Naturally, lesser performance means financial losses. However, it can also be particularly damaging to the office atmosphere and teamwork. Employees that are left to carry the load of those engaged in absenteeism are likely to grow resentful toward their colleagues. They might also lose trust in you for letting this happen.

How Do I Spot It?

Often solving the issue of absenteeism is nowhere near as difficult as spotting it in the first place. It is nearly impossible to tell whether short-term leaves your staff take are for a valid reason or not, especially if they’re careful about it. Unless you know what you’re looking for, you may never find out one or more of your employees is involved in this malpractice. Absenteeism only becomes clear when there’s a pattern.

In other words, there’s a big chance you have lost a lot of money by the time you notice something is not right. Understandably, you can’t be expected to micromanage each of your staff’s time off; it would be time-consuming, damaging to relationships and downright impossible in bigger organisations. That said, the best way to fight absenteeism is to prevent it.

Absenteeism Prevention

Suffice to say, excessive employee absences can have a huge impact on businesses small and large. Normally, if you notice it happening - the damage has already been done. We will next talk about prevention measures you can take.

Time Tracking Software

To start tackling absenteeism, it’s important to have systems in place that accurately monitor absence levels and flag potential problems. Software like Timesheet Portal enables business owners and HR departments to record, approve and report employee absences.


Our portal utilises the Bradford Factor score to calculate absence levels, a formula that will help you manage short-term staff absences and identify when these have become excessive, so you can take action.

Improving Relationships

There’s normally a deeper reason for absenteeism than simply needing an occasional day off. It’s worth reviewing what is your relationship with the employees - do they view you as someone you can trust? Often, absenteeism manifests when workers are scared to admit to their superiors they’re burnt out, have a bad mental health day or need a day off for a small occasion such as attending their child’s school play.

Nurturing a trust-driven office culture and being empathetic to your workers’ needs often eliminates the need for them to fake sick leave or other emergencies that would grant them time off. To give you pointers on how to build that type of environment, we recommend reading Kim Scott’s Radical Candor.

Who’s Affected?

While absenteeism is spreading across all sectors and all kinds of businesses, there’s a particular trend that’s been identified. The size of the company plays a big role in how severely it’s affected.

Big Companies Have it Worse

A recent study from Group Risk Development (GRiD) discovered that absenteeism is a greater problem for larger firms than for their smaller counterparts. This offers little surprise if we take into consideration the lack of an individual approach in most big businesses. Without an automated solution in place, it’s impossible to spot and address absenteeism when managing bigger volumes of employees.

Polling 500 HR decision-makers in 500 UK companies, GRiD found those with over 250 employees have the greatest absence rates, at 7.5 days per year on average. This compares to 2.8 days for micro-businesses or those with one to nine staff.


Absenteeism is a problem that, upon being found out, has already caused damage. The way to control it is to prevent it from happening. It’s easier to fight in smaller organisations, where managers have more time to keep an eye on every employee, whereas it’s physically impossible in multi-level corporations.

The key to tackling absenteeism is by preventing it in the first place. Since it gets spotted by identifying patterns, adopting time tracking software will allow you to easily analyse your staff’s time off work and highlight potential malpractice the moment it surfaces. Even better, though, is to nurture mutual trust between the management and the workers, this way eliminating the need for absenteeism.

Not sure what time tracking software would be best for the task? Give us a shot.

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Timesheet Portal online software provided by Anfold Software Ltd, a registered company in the UK.