Home / Blog / Absenteeism: Understanding this menace and how to enhance employee retention

Absenteeism: Understanding this menace and how to enhance employee retention

23 min read

Absenteeism

What is Absenteeism?

If your job function involves hiring talent or solving issues related to people at your workplace, then you would know the growth potential and complexities arising out of person-to-person and person-to-business communication. HR professionals and senior business leaders are inherently strong advocates of the true potential of human talent in accelerating business.

Since talent is a key pillar that influences the success of businesses, it is imperative to understand various aspects of dealing with and effectively harnessing talent. Absenteeism is one such subject. It can have several causes that we will take a closer look at through this blog post.

Employee absenteeism refers to the habitual or intentional absence of an employee from work. In most cases, these are without prior approval from their supervisor or without a valid reason. It reflects the extent to which employees within a business are away when they are expected to be at work.

As the frequency of absenteeism grows, the responsibility of identifying the underlying causes of absenteeism and correcting this problem is assigned to business leaders and HR professionals. In this exhaustive post, we take a closer look at factors affecting employee absenteeism, the causes of absenteeism, the types of absenteeism, and discuss ways to overcome them.

Employee Absenteeism: A look at the top 5 causes of absenteeism at the workplace

Organizational Factors

Within each organization, there can be multiple causes for employee absenteeism such as monotonous work, poor working conditions, or strenuous work schedules. Let’s look at these factors:

Monotonous work
In industries where operations tend to follow a strict routine, especially the production floor in a factory, life tends to get very monotonous. It is natural in these environments for the rate of absenteeism to be relatively higher than industry standards.

Lack of effective corrective measures
Often, the lack of a standard operating procedure to curb rising absenteeism rates is evident in the form of rising numbers in absenteeism.

Inadequate working conditions
In certain organizations, where working conditions have scope for improvement, such as adequate lighting and ventilation there is a greater change of witnessing a higher rate of absenteeism.

Poor management practices
In businesses where poor management practices are followed, employee dissatisfaction can rise. Some of the triggers could include lack of communication and a lack of support or recognition. This leads to higher rates of absenteeism.

Inadequate training
Equipping employees with the skill and talent needed to perform well at their job could boost confidence and make them sure of their role. This results in better job satisfaction with higher attendance rates at work.

Although this is an indicative list, it is important for business leaders and HR professionals to identify and address the relevant causes for absenteeism in their business to improve employee attendance.

As a cause of absenteeism, stress is highly underrated, especially among younger employees. Today, as Gen Z numerically dominates the workplace, it is important to address varying gaps in expectations on both sides to fix absenteeism. Understanding these causes is the first step to fixing them.

As an example, according to the Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, at 46 percent, nearly half of all Gen Z employees feel burned out. This is attributed to a demanding work environment. Similarly, 44 percent of Gen Z employees and 43 percent of millennials said they recently left their organization due to workload pressure.

Whether it’s an individual, a local team or the entire organization, fixing absenteeism may require interventions at multiple levels.

Environmental Factors

As a young nation, India saw the rise of four major metropolitan cities, also known as metros – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai. These were hubs of economic and employment activity across the North, West, East, and South, respectively.

Inherently, talent from the rural areas in the periphery of these regions travelled to these economic hubs for employment and growth opportunities. This migratory nature of the Indian workforce can hamper the sense of belonging towards the workplace. Often, the result is higher rates of absenteeism. In cities such as Mumbai, climatic conditions can result in prolonged absenteeism. A case in point being torrential rains during the monsoons resulting in prolonged absenteeism due to challenges with access to transportation.

Socio-Economic Factors

As employees stay away from their extended joint families, and in some cases even immediate nuclear family members for prolonged periods, a lack of purpose could adversely impact commitment to work. A lack of an alternative employment opportunity could result in prolonged absenteeism.

Religious-Cultural Factors

Cultural aspects such as religious festivals and practices could influence absenteeism rates. India’s biggest asset of being a melting pot of cultures, traditions and religious beliefs brings with it the responsibility of accommodating a myriad celebrations and observations that are dear to most employees at the workplace. As a result, India has one of the lowest numbers of working days in the world. In a sense, absenteeism is the natural result.

To understand the situation better, consider the major festivals in India. Festivals such as Holi, Ganesh Utsav, Durga Puja, Onam, and Pongal have a massive following in specific states or regions in India. Similarly, Dussehra, Diwali, Eid, and Christmas have a nationwide resonance as a time to meet and greet family and friends as a much sought down time. Either way, staying with the subject, they end up boosting absenteeism numbers.

Recognizing and accommodating religious and cultural preferences can go a long way in boosting inclusivity while also ensuring that absenteeism is curbed while maintaining operational efficiency.

Personal Factors

It’s an age-old challenge to workplace efficiency. Personal grievances and problems can have an adverse impact on professional experiences.

If you consider the unskilled and relatively less experienced employees in an organization, they have a lower awareness towards the need to isolate their personal and professional lives. As a result, frequent domestic altercations can result in complications that require time away from work.

In rural areas, domestic arguments tend to adversely impact women more than men. Factors such as domestic abuse, hostility towards women working, and responsibilities of children and maternity needs could result in prolonged and more frequent absenteeism. As organizations evolve to grant women much needed support, societal challenges continue to remain a complex barrier towards unhindered workplace efficiency.

Similarly, personality challenges such as the affinity towards substance abuse, alcohol, or inability to cope with stress by effectively planning strategic approaches can result in higher rates of employee absenteeism.
Top causes for absenteeism at the workplace

What is the Cost and Effects of Absenteeism

In the previous section on organizational factors, we have seen how organizations that overlook absenteeism only see the situation deteriorating. The problem is accentuated because erring employees are probably not held accountable. It is then common for fence sitters on the issue of absenteeism to see their colleagues not receive a warning letter for absenteeism.

This encourages them to then go ahead and adapt the practice. Although the immediate loss to an organization is in the form of lost work hours, it simply doesn’t end there.

From an organization’s perspective, there are salaries that ought to be paid to employees despite absenteeism. This is financial loss directly attributable to absenteeism. An immediate impact of absenteeism is zero productivity. In fact, just in India alone, the financial losses borne by companies on account of absenteeism is a staggering Rs 14,000 crore according to a Deloitte study.

If production is crucial, and absenteeism will impact deadlines, companies tend to hire temporary workers or replacements that come at high costs.

If absenteeism wasn’t a big enough problem already, tracking it and handling the associated paperwork with recurring absence from work is an additional overhead. Besides, additional time this demands from managers on discipline-related issues and the back and forth with talent acquisition teams, the mind space offered to crucial business operations takes a back seat.

The backlog, delay, and reduced output that follows can also impact the final output and can potentially impair relationships with customers or damage the reputation of the business.

Lastly, the burden of absenteeism must be carried by diligent and efficient colleagues. Over a prolonged period, not only can absenteeism get contagious, but will result in higher attrition due to a beaten down morale. Unfortunately, saying ‘that’s not my job’ isn’t even an option. It results in an increased workload for colleagues who must cover for irresponsible coworkers. This additional burden can lead to reduced morale and motivation among employees.

Measuring Employee Absenteeism

In the previous section on organizational factors, we have seen how organizations that overlook absenteeism only see the situation deteriorating. The problem is accentuated because erring employees are probably not held accountable. It is then common for fence sitters on the issue of absenteeism to see their colleagues not receive a warning letter for absenteeism.

This encourages them to then go ahead and adapt the practice. Although the immediate loss to an organization is in the form of lost work hours, it simply doesn’t end there.

From an organization’s perspective, there are salaries that ought to be paid to employees despite absenteeism. This is financial loss directly attributable to absenteeism. An immediate impact of absenteeism is zero productivity. In fact, just in India alone, the financial losses borne by companies on account of absenteeism is a staggering Rs 14,000 crore according to a Deloitte study.

If production is crucial, and absenteeism will impact deadlines, companies tend to hire temporary workers or replacements that come at high costs.

If absenteeism wasn’t a big enough problem already, tracking it and handling the associated paperwork with recurring absence from work is an additional overhead. Besides, additional time this demands from managers on discipline-related issues and the back and forth with talent acquisition teams, the mind space offered to crucial business operations takes a back seat.

The backlog, delay, and reduced output that follows can also impact the final output and can potentially impair relationships with customers or damage the reputation of the business.

Lastly, the burden of absenteeism must be carried by diligent and efficient colleagues. Over a prolonged period, not only can absenteeism get contagious, but will result in higher attrition due to a beaten down morale. Unfortunately, saying ‘that’s not my job’ isn’t even an option. It results in an increased workload for colleagues who must cover for irresponsible coworkers. This additional burden can lead to reduced morale and motivation among employees.

Measuring Employee Absenteeism

Now that we understand the absenteeism problem, we must focus on curbing it. However, to effectively curb it, we must be able to measure employee absenteeism.

There are three primary ways to measure employee absenteeism. There are:

Absenteeism Rate

The first metric to keep an eye on is the absenteeism rate. It is easy to confuse this with Frequency of Absenteeism. This is a commonly used measure of absenteeism that calculates the percentage of scheduled workdays missed by employees. In this method of calculation, the focus is on the days of work skipped.

To calculate the Absenteeism Rate:

Absenteeism Rate = (the total number of days where employees were absent) divided by (the total number of scheduled workdays) multiplied by 100. The absenteeism rate can be calculated for individual employees, departments, or for the entire organization.

As a metric It provides a quick and easy way to track absenteeism trends over time and helps compare absenteeism rates across different groups. For example, a business can compare differences between two offices in two cities to find patterns, or even trends between two departments within the same office or business. Absenteeism rate helps identify high-risk groups, as well as track trends, and benchmark against industry standards.

Lost Productivity

The second metric to consider is lost productivity and is another important measure of absenteeism that calculates the cost of absenteeism to the organization in terms of lost productivity. This measure considers the number of days absent, the number of employees affected, and the cost of replacing absent employees.

The formula for calculating lost productivity or the inactivity index is:

Inactivity Index = (Time lost to absenteeism within a specific period) divided by (Time usually worked within the same period) multiplied by 100.

Calculating lost productivity helps identify the true cost of absenteeism, identify areas for improvement, and justify the cost of interventions.

Extent of Absenteeism

The next metric of significance is the extent of absenteeism and considers the overall level of absenteeism in the organization. This metric considers the participation of employees in the workplace.

Participation Index = (Number of employees absent within a period) / (Average number of employees within the same period) multiplied by 100.

As a metric, the extent of absenteeism conveys the same severity as lost productivity. However, while calculating lost productivity focuses on time, participation index focuses on talent.

Frequency of Absenteeism

The last metric to consider is the frequency of absenteeism.

Incidence Rate = (Number of absenteeism incidences during a period) / (Average number of employees during the same period)

This metric is represented as episodes per 100 employees per year. To understand this better, let us consider the following scenario. If there 500 employees in a department, with 45 incidences of absenteeism in the month of May, then the incidence rate would be calculated as follows:

Incidence Rate = (45 x 100 x 12) / (500) = 108 per 100 employees per year.

The incidence index does not describe the severity of the problem because it doesn’t consider the duration of absenteeism.

HR leaders can closely study the nature of their talent pool by looking at a single or multiple metrics to determine the appropriate course of action. Typically, the kind of information that becomes evident by calculating these indices are the specific unit that needs attention, the depth of the problem of absenteeism, the financial impact of absenteeism and hence the urgency of intervention with respect to the cost that the business must bear because of this problem.

How to Reduce Workplace Absenteeism

Adverse socio-economic factors and challenges only further accelerate absenteeism rates. Addressing these factors through interventional remedies such as counselling, education, training, or even access to experts can boost morale to mitigate absenteeism. The following ways could help address these challenges to employee attendance:

Employee Support Programs

Provide resources and support to employees facing financial hardships, such as financial counseling, assistance programs, or access to affordable healthcare.

Work-Life Balance Policies

Implement policies that promote work-life balance, such as flexible work schedules, remote work options, and parental leave policies. These measures can alleviate the challenges faced by employees with significant family responsibilities. In a report by Livemint, Ayush Jindal, Co-founder & CEO, Scoreme Solutions Pvt Ltd said, “Promoting employee well-being can lead to lower healthcare costs, decreased absenteeism, and higher job satisfaction and retention rates.”

Employee Engagement Initiatives

Foster a sense of belongingness and engagement among employees through team-building activities, mentorship programs, and initiatives that promote a positive work environment.

Health and Wellness Programs

Offer wellness programs that address physical and mental health concerns, providing employees with resources to maintain their well-being. This can help reduce absenteeism due to health-related issues. In a report by India.com, Ritu Mehrotra, Founder and CEO, United We Care recommends addressing mental health issues to boost not just employee absenteeism, but also presenteeism (where although an employee is physically present, they aren’t mentally engaged at the workplace).

By acknowledging and addressing socio-economic factors, organizations can create a supportive work environment that minimizes the impact of these challenges and reduces absenteeism rates.

Addressing absenteeism requires a proactive and holistic approach. Consider implementing the following strategies to reduce absenteeism and enhance employee retention:

  1. Negative Financial Incentives: Introduce financial penalties or deductions for unexcused absences to discourage unauthorized time off.
  2. Performance Pay: Link a portion of employee compensation to performance metrics, incentivizing attendance, and productivity.
  3. Lotteries: Reward employees with excellent attendance records through random drawings or lotteries, creating positive reinforcement for attendance.
  4. Enhance Working Conditions: Improve workplace conditions to enhance employee satisfaction and motivation, reducing the likelihood of absenteeism.
  5. High-Involvement Management: Foster a culture of open communication, employee involvement, and empowerment, giving employees a sense of ownership and reducing absenteeism.
  6. Foster Loyalty: Implement initiatives that enhance employee loyalty, such as career development programs, recognition and rewards, and a positive work environment.
  7. Return-to-Work Programs: Develop structured return-to-work programs to support employees transitioning back into the workplace after an absence, ensuring a smooth reintegration process.

Over a prolonged period, employee absenteeism can be detrimental to the organization. We have seen how it impacts the entire ecosystem – from individual employees to their teammates, colleagues, and eventually, the business itself.

As an HR leader, it is an opportunity for you to take a closer look at the possible causes of absenteeism in your organization and measure employee absenteeism accurately by taking a data-driven approach.

Go ahead and implement effective strategies to reduce absenteeism rates and enhance employee retention to create a positive and engaged working environment. Relying on an HRIS system makes data gathering more objective and scientific while also making easier comparisons between offices, markets, and geographies more convenient.

Addressing absenteeism is not possible with a single solution. It requires a multi-faceted approach that requires a combination of organizational change, people-centric HR policies, accessible and transparent management and an objective data driven approach to decision making.

Table of Contents

    Meet the author

    Keka Editorial Team

    A bunch of inspired, creative and ambitious youngsters- that’s Keka’s editorial team for you. We have a thirst to learn new subjects and curate diverse pieces for our readers. Our deep understanding and knowledge of Human Resources has enabled us to answer almost every question pertaining to this department. If not seen finding ways to simplify the HR world, they can be found striking conversations with anyone and everyone , petting dogs, obsessing over gadgets, or baking cakes.

    Email

    Thank you for Subscribing!

    Related articles

    Employee Presenteeism is a Bigger Problem Than Absenteeism
    Keka Editorial Team 6 min read

    In this fastpaced world it is so easy to feel lost and zone out sometimes right A boring lecture a bad movie a sad conversation with a group or individual

    Your Managers Might Be Making Your Employees Leave
    Keka Editorial Team 8 min read

    Whenever a great employee puts in hisher papers it comes as a shock to the management They try whatever they can to retain that person because the cost of replacing a good employee is huge

    5 Ultimate Employee Retention Strategies You Should Follow
    Balaji Sogathur 10 min read

    What if your key employee decides to leave the organization at the crucial stage of your business The consequences are definitely going to cost you more than what you think

    cookie image

    By clicking “Accept", you consent to our website's use of cookies to give you the most relevant experience by remembering your preferences and repeat visits. You may visit "cookie policy” to know more about cookies we use.