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Absenteeism in the Workplace: Top Five Causes and How to Reduce it

15 February 2023 7 min read

employee absenteeism

Absenteeism is an inevitable part of running a business.

We all feel under the weather sometimes. But we’re also all products of our environment. And if the working environment is making your employees feel unwell, unhappy, or otherwise out-of-sorts, then it’s your responsibility as an employer to set things right.

Each individual sick day taken will cost UK employers approximately £107.85. So over the course of a year, sick leave costs UK employers around £29bn.

This is reason alone to act – taking steps to address the issues that influence employee absenteeism will save you money while making your business more productive. But beyond this, people like working for companies that value their wellbeing. It makes them feel valued and respected, which is why companies with good wellbeing programs can expect improved staff retention along with reduced absenteeism.

In this blog, we’ll take a look at the top 5 causes of increased absenteeism in the workplace before exploring the ways that you, as an employer, can help to address these issues.

1. Minor Illnesses

Colds and flu can make the rounds at any point of the year, though they may be more likely to strike in the colder months. Things like headaches and stomach bugs can strike at any time. Minor illnesses like these are an inevitable part of working life, and they’re so common that they’ll likely prove costly for all businesses.

But you can still take steps to make these conditions less costly. For instance, you could make it clear that employees simply should not show up for work if they’re feeling peaky, and you could immediately send home any employees that show up to work with a cold, flu, or stomach virus. This will reduce the chances of illness spreading among your staff.

Good absence reporting will also help here. Clear reporting will help you to spot patterns, while Bradford Factor scoring could flag any repeat instances of minor illnesses among your staff. This, combined with a routine return to work interviews, may help you identify areas where you could make improvements.

national sickie day

2. Stress & Mental Ill Health

According to recent figures from the CIPD, stress and mental ill-health are major causes of employee absence. Widespread mental health issues are estimated to result in more than 91 million lost days each year, which costs UK businesses up to £15 billion in productivity.

This may be a growing issue, too. According to the Mental Health Foundation, in 2018 74% of people experienced stress so severe they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. And according to mental health charity Mind, one in six workers is currently facing mental health problems.

We have some excellent resources on managing stress and mental ill-health in the workplace. Here’s our short guide to understanding the wider issues surrounding mental health. And here are 7 simple ways to manage stress in the workplace.

A good stress-busting strategy includes:

  • Addressing the common causes of stress in the workplace
  • Promoting a good work/life balance
  • Filling the workspace with plants and natural light
  • Encouraging exercise and healthy eating
  • Developing a better understanding of your employees

On that last point, once again absence management software can help. Prevention is always better than a cure, and if you can spot a pattern of absenteeism, you may be able to help an employee who might otherwise have suffered in silence.

absenteeism in the workplace

3. Musculoskeletal Issues

Back pain and other conditions are among the most common causes of both short and long-term absences. These conditions may be more common in sectors involving lots of manual work, but bad posture in the office can also lead to a host of unwanted conditions down the line. And any worker in any role can injure themselves through lifting a heavy box in the wrong way…

There are two things you can do to make these sorts of absences less likely:

  • Provide Adequate Training – Those involved in any form of manual work will need extensive and specialised training. But something as simple as showing everyone the correct way to lift a box – with bent legs and a straight back – could prevent many potential injuries.
  • Make Sure Everyone Has the Right Equipment – For those doing manual work, this could involve anything from ladders to forklifts, to back braces. For office staff, footrests and chairs with lumbar support can encourage good posture.

In offices and other sedentary environments, you could also encourage your employees to stand for a few minutes for every hour they spend sitting. You could even switch to standing meetings!

4. Non-Work-Related Injuries and Accidents

You might have an excellent employee wellbeing program, and you might have done all you can to keep your employees safe. But accidents can happen anywhere. If an employee breaks a bone playing sports at a weekend or gets involved in a collision while driving home, they’re going to miss some work. So what can you do?

A good work/life balance is a major part of any wellness program. You should never expect your employees to work when they’re not feeling up to it. But that said, a flexible working environment can mean that employees who might otherwise have been unable to work can still do their jobs.

For example, say an employee’s out of action for weeks due to chronic back pain. If they don’t feel able to work, then so be it. Let them recover. But if they still wish to work, give them the option to work remotely. In this way, many days that might have been written off as absences could be well-spent.

5. Home & Family Responsibilities

Home and family responsibilities are among the top 10 causes of long-term absences and the top 5 causes of short-term absences.

Employees with children will always have illnesses, school issues, and other crises to worry about. But it’s not just parents who may have to miss work to deal with a crisis. Britain has an aging population, and many people now have to take care of elderly parents and other relatives.

This is another area where a flexible working culture can make a difference. The working day doesn’t have to be a rigid 9-5, and you don’t necessarily need your employees to be in the office to do their jobs. If an employee can work from home while they look after a sick relative, or leave a little earlier to make the school run, then they’ll be able to fulfill their family responsibilities without missing any work.

But you need to set limits. Don’t let a culture of flexible working turn into an organisational culture of overworking. If your employees can’t switch off, it could lead to a lot of stress down the line, which of course could result in even more absence.

Absence management system allows users to keep on top of the hours they’ve worked, so you can have a flexible working environment in which nobody works any more (or less) hours than they should.

Conclusion: Don’t Let Absenteeism Get the Better of You

Employee absence is always a problem, but it does tend to spike at certain times of the year. This could be due to adverse weather, seasonal stresses, or mounting financial pressures. In any case, it’s important that you take steps to understand the underlying causes of absence.

Absence software offers clear reporting that will make it easy for you to understand your data, employee demographics, and behaviors. This will enable you to identify problem areas and take strategic action to support employee wellbeing while reducing absenteeism.

Katrina Bennett People Director at edays
February 15, 2023

Katrina is edays' own People Director with significant UK and international experience in delivering people strategy and value-adding HR solutions across a range of organisations and sectors (including Arriva, Boots, Rolls Royce, the utility and charity sectors). Katrina has over 20 years of experience in Human Resources and is CIPD qualified.