Whether they’re turning on their laptops while WFH or sliding into their desk chairs in the office, for employees to be productive they have to show up. That’s why absenteeism rates can be a make-or-break metric for your workplace.

Absenteeism is the HR term for “not coming to work when you’re not sick or on holiday.” Measuring an organization’s absenteeism rate is an excellent way to temperature-check engagement and culture health.

Let’s learn about:

  • How to measure absenteeism rates
  • What causes absenteeism
  • Consequence of absenteeism
  • How to mitigate high absenteeism rates

How to measure absenteeism rates

When talking about absenteeism, we have to make an essential distinction between a number of reasons not to come into work:

  • Sick days or longer-term sick leave
  • Personal days
  • Paid time off (PTO)
  • Unpaid time off

What’s left is known as “unexcused absences.” To calculate your organization’s absenteeism rate, you’ll take the number of unexcused absences, divide it by the amount of time being measured, and multiply the result by 100 to get the percentage of absenteeism during that period. 

It looks like this:

 [(Unexcused absences) / (Time period being measured)] x 100 = absenteeism rate

Since you’d like your absenteeism rate to be as close to zero as possible, if your absenteeism rate is above zero then you might have a cultural problem.

(Have you read our report about HR metrics that matter? Check it out here.)

What causes absenteeism?

Workplace absenteeism is serious, and it doesn’t become a problem overnight. The leading cause of absenteeism, people not wanting to come to work, is indicative of a big issue in your workplace.

Causes of absenteeism include:

  • Toxic management. A study published by the Journal of International Business Research and Marketing noted a correlation between absenteeism and bad management. Employees who dislike their managers are less inclined to come to work and perform, reducing their productivity and engagement.
  • Workplace stress. Employees suffering from stress, either coming from their manager, their colleagues, or the workplace environment, are more likely to skip out on work—though their risk of physical illness is also elevated.
  • Burnout. Burnout is to stress what a Big Mac is to a veggie burger. So, if workplace stress leads to increased absenteeism, burnout can make your absenteeism rate skyrocket. Employees feel chronically overwhelmed, underappreciated, underpaid, or all of the above are less likely to come to work, impacting your culture and productivity. With 35% of American employees reporting that they suffer from chronic work stress, this is something worth stressing about.
  • Disengaged employees. Engaged employees are excited about Mondays. They like their work, their teammates, and their manager. Disengaged employees, however, will do whatever they can to avoid work.

(Want to read about decreasing employee stress? Check out our guide to workplace stress prevention.)

“Presenteeism” is as damaging to your company’s culture, productivity, and bottom line as “absenteeism.” While companies with high rates of absenteeism may be seeing empty seats, companies dealing with elevated presenteeism have bodies in seats—but not minds and hearts. Disengaged employees may force themselves to come to work for the paycheck, but they’ll leave their selves outside. That’s a problem for your culture.

Preventing absenteeism

It’s estimated that absenteeism costs businesses $2,660 annually for every salaried employee. Preventing absenteeism (and, while we’re at it, presenteeism) will help you strengthen your culture, increase productivity, and prevent potential losses to your bottom line.

  • Emphasize wellbeing. Keep employees from reaching burnout or high-stress situations by providing wellbeing solutions and perks and encouraging their use.
  • Incentivize attendance. Make your office somewhere employees enjoy being. Consider the “usual” perks (lunch, fancy coffee), but you can also think outside the box—Pilates classes, book clubs, and occasional lunchtime speakers are examples.
  • Intervene early. If you notice that an employee has begun showing signs of absenteeism (ie not showing up for work, or coming late and leaving early), talk to them. Set up a check-in meeting to see what’s going on and if, or how, you can help. Maybe something’s going on at home, they’re having a problem with their manager, or need extra support.

Monitor attendance. To understand who’s coming to work when and for how long, take advantage of HR tech tools (such as bob) that will help you monitor attendance and gather insights.


From Shayna Hodkin

Shayna lives in south Tel Aviv with two dogs and a lot of plants. She writes poems and reads tarot.