3 ways to detect absenteeism in the workplace

A quick summary:

  • Absenteeism definition
  • How to calculate your company's absenteeism rate
  • How to detect absenteeism in the workplace
  • Our final thoughts on absenteeism

Absenteeism is a very real problem. It’s also the sibling of presenteeism. If you’re looking for a more general overview of the two terms, we’ve done so in our ‘demystifying absenteeism and presenteeism’ post.

In our previous post, we discuss the two, touching on a couple of red flags for absenteeism in the workplace. Now, we're diving into absenteeism specifically, and the various signs employees may exhibit. 

We’ll kick things off with an absenteeism definition, before helping you calculate your own absenteeism rate. 

After that, we’ll explore three signs of absenteeism in the workplace. Once you’ve read through our guide, you should have a greater understanding of what absenteeism is and how it affects not only your business but your employees.

Remember, great businesses are built by happy employees. That’s why leaders must tread carefully around absenteeism, and avoid making assumptions as absenteeism is present.

A female employee sat at her desk with her hand against her face looking unhappy
Understanding what absenteeism is and its impacts

Absenteeism Definition

Firstly, what is absenteeism? Well, it’s pretty simple really. Absenteeism is best described by the guys over at Investopedia. Their absenteeism definition suggests that it is the habitual non-presence; that extended beyond scheduled annual leave, occasional illness and other family priorities and emergencies. 

This absenteeism definition does a great job of highlighting the difference between being away from work and being abnormally away from work. In our post today, however, we’re going to look at the causes, and the things to look out for as an HR manager founder. 

Before we do so, let’s talk about calculating your company’s absenteeism rate. Believe it or not, there are many calculators online for this. Our must-have HR calculations cheat sheet includes 16 others too! It’s a simple Google sheet built for HR teams to get a better insight into the numbers that powers their business.

How to calculate your absenteeism rate

It’s important you understand your company’s absenteeism rate. It may well be the very first sign of a growing problem. One that can prompt you to dig deeper into and look at your workforce (using the signs we’re about to explore soon). 

To calculate your company’s absenteeism rate, take a look at the equation below:

Total days absent ÷ (Number of employees x Number of working days) x 100

For example, if you had 165 unauthorised absences between 14 employees and there are 245 days worked throughout the year, your absenteeism rate would be 4.81% — It’s as simple as that.

As we mentioned above, head over to our HR calculations cheat sheet for this very equation, plus 16 more! We promise you won’t regret it. 

Female worker feeling stressed about her workload and projects
Detecting absenteeism in the workplace

How to detect absenteeism in the workplace

Now, for the main part! Although absenteeism can occur for reasons just as carelessness or employees who are searching for a job, there is a whole heap of reasons. 

That’s why, as we’ve mentioned above, it’s not a good idea to assume. Instead of pointing the finger, absenteeism in the workplace should be dealt with through compassion and understanding. Without further ado, let’s dive into the following ways…

Employees struggle with their mental health

According to Mentalhealth.org.uk, mental health support could save UK businesses around £8bn per year. This figure highlights the very real, and growing, the problem of poor mental health in the workplace. 

And while Heka is a great solution to help businesses tackle poor employee wellbeing, changes must be made on a cultural and management level. 

As far as absenteeism in the workplace is concerned, leaders should look out for employees who are struggling with pressure, and having occasional low-mood outbursts or meltdowns. 

Especially in employees who can usually handle workplace stress and pressure. That’s not to say employees should be able to handle these emotions, but when the going gets tough, it’s employees you wouldn’t expect to react in that way.

According to one report, up to 300,000 people lose their jobs each year due to mental health problems. Leaders should take greater consideration in assessing their team’s emotional health, such as workplace anxiety.

That way, they can help prevent absenteeism from becoming a much larger issue. One that results in an increase in absenteeism in the workplace.

Similar read: What is ‘leavism’ and does it impact my employees?

Exhibits signs of feeling unheard and unappreciated

In addition to promoting and nurturing better mental health, leaders must recognise whether they aren’t listening and acting on the concerns and problems employees have. This point goes hand-in-hand with mental health in the workplace. 

Think about it. If employees do come forward about their mental health problems, and find very little support from employees, then absenteeism in the workplace is likely to increase. 

That’s because employees who feel unheard and unappreciated will do two things. Firstly, they will struggle further until it affects their ability to turn up for work or perform at their best (presenteeism). Secondly, they will begin searching for an employer who will support their health, wellbeing and overall happiness. 

It isn’t just personal wellbeing, however, employees may feel unheard regarding their goals and ambitions or accomplishments. If employees are looking to learn more or earn more and leaders aren’t listening, this will inevitably lead to absenteeism. 

Signs of feeling unheard and ignored or unappreciated include not coming forward with problems and issues. It also includes employees who stop contributing ideas and suggestions. It’s ultimately when employees become less engaged due to poor leadership. 

According to one article, around 87% of millennial workers believe learning and development are important in the workplace. Are you supporting your employees the best you can?

Starts to produce low-quality work and collaborates less 

When absenteeism in the workplace becomes a problem, it is evident in the work people produce. Now, leaders should avoid being judgemental, and although low-grade work is not acceptable, it’s important to look into the reasons why. 

Sometimes, this carelessness will evolve from other issues, and by addressing them, organisations can avoid it happening to other employees. What we’re trying to say is, rather than it a singular problem, it could be a reflection of the leadership in a business. 

When low-quality work is noticed, managers should sit down to discuss the health, wellbeing and general happiness of employees. Asking them questions about workplace pressure, whether they’re stressed with projects and deadlines and if they genuinely enjoy their job anymore. 

It might feel strange to address poor work performance in this way, but it will get to the heart of the matter much more easily, as opposed to pointing a finger and demanding better performance “or else”. 

We’ve written extensively about wellbeing meetings. Something that can help leaders better understand how people feel towards the workplace, their colleagues, their work etc. 

Low-quality work isn’t a reflection of your employees. You didn’t hire them because they weren’t the right fit for the job. It’s communication that can solve absenteeism in the workplace and poor performance.

A man sat outside looking in astonishment at his laptop screen
Final thoughts on absenteeism in the workplace

Our final thoughts on absenteeism in the workplace

There you have it! It’s clear from the points above that absenteeism in the workplace is something organisations should actively monitor. It can be a silent killer, impacting everything from retention to productivity, performance and more. 

The three signs we’ve discussed above are ways to get a better understanding of absenteeism in the workplace. It’s characteristics, actions and behaviours that point towards absenteeism; whether it’s become a problem or is destined to. 

If you’re a manager or a team, department or entire business, our final message is this: approach absenteeism from a non-judgmental perspective. There are many reasons why absenteeism occurs and they aren’t all malicious. Sometimes, people just need to be heard. Sometimes they need to be brought back onto the right path. That is the purpose of a leader.