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How to Control Employee Absenteeism in the Workplace

written by: N. Plowman•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 6/20/2010

Many employers attempt to reduce absenteeism but find it difficult to successfully do so because of a lack of understanding relating to employees and attendance. This article identifies why employees tend to miss work and how employers can effectively control absenteeism throughout the workplace.

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    Effects of Absenteeism on Businesses

    After turnover, absenteeism can be one of the most critical human resource issues for businesses. Observing, evaluating, and attempting to improve absenteeism can be extremely difficult, but with the proper understanding of what causes absenteeism and how to reduce it, businesses can limit the negative side effects of employee attendance issues.

    In addition to lowered workplace morale, less team cohesion, and decreased organizational commitment, employee absenteeism is detrimental to businesses in respect to the increased costs associated with high instances of absenteeism. When employees do not come to work, employers are financially burdened due to the lost productivity and increased costs associated with finding and paying for temporary replacements. Additionally, absenteeism is positively correlated with turnover, which means that the more an employee misses work, the more likely he or she is to eventually leave the company. This resulting turnover also financially impacts a business because of the costs associated with finding and training a permanent replacement.

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    Reasons for Heightened Absenteeism

    Many studies suggest that most of employee absenteeism, roughly between 60% and 70%, is due to reasons other than employee illness. The following are the most common reasons employees tend to miss work.

    • Employees are stressed or preoccupied by personal matters, such as parental concerns, marital problems, community involvement, family well-being, care for elderly relatives, care for severely ill immediate family members, and so on.
    • Employees are overwhelmed with their current working situation, or they are overworked due to workforce reductions and voluntary turnover.
    • Employees are dissatisfied with their current working conditions, position, team performance, supervisor, or overall organization.
    • Employees are not committed to their team, department, or organization.
    • Employees are not challenged by their position and have increased feelings of burnout.
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    Ways to Reduce Absenteeism

    Since most absenteeism is a result of non-illness related events, employers can control approximately 60% of employee absenteeism. Obviously, an employer cannot improve absenteeism due to personal reasons, but an employer can directly influence the other four main causes of absenteeism through the following initiatives.

    1. Increase employee motivation.

    Motivation This is easier said than done, but it can be accomplished by enhancing the intrinsic motivation employees receive from their job by making production goals more realistic, increasing desirable job responsibilities, and improving working conditions. An employer can also increase extrinsic motivation by implementing a type of recognition or reward program.

    2. Enhance job satisfaction.

    Job satisfaction is influenced by many employment factors. However, the best way to improve employee satisfaction is to reduce workplace stressors to make working conditions more enjoyable and consistently provide honest and meaningful feedback and praise.

    3. Implement a job rotation or job enlargement strategy.

    One of the reasons employees are frequently absent is lack of challenging work due to repetition, boredom, and burnout. A way that employers can improve an employee’s perspective of his or her position is to provide opportunities to rotate among jobs and to gain more skills and knowledge in an area of personal and professional interest.

    4. Reward and discipline employees for increased or decreased absenteeism.

    Although this may seem elementary, the reward/punishment motive is still an effective way to influence absenteeism rates in organizations. If a financial or recognition-based reward is attached to instances of decreased absenteeism, employees that are motivated to receive the reward will have fewer instances of absenteeism and strive to achieve attendance goals. Furthermore, employees that are motivated to avoid consequences positively react to this type of strategy.

    5. Allow employees to utilize a modified work schedule.

    Since some absenteeism is a result of personal-related matters, providing employees the opportunity to be flexible in their schedules, occasionally or permanently, helps employees feel more able to balance their work and personal life. Flex time, or modified work schedules, can range in degrees of formality and type, so the flexibility can be easily controlled by an employer.