What Is Workplace Absenteeism? (With Its Types and Effects)

Updated November 9, 2022

Absence in the workplace has numerous effects on a business, such as financial losses and poor work quality. To reduce these effects, many companies develop and implement strategies that help reduce workplace absences and increase employees' productivity. Learning about employee absence and its effects can help you understand the steps that organizations take to manage it. In this article, we define workplace absenteeism, explain its various types, list its effects, state how to minimize it, and review the employee absence rate.

What is workplace absenteeism?

Workplace absenteeism refers to an employee's failure to attend or stay at work according to schedule, regardless of the reason. Employee absences are common in the office environment as employees may miss work for numerous reasons, including illness, vacation, harassment, and childcare. Employees may also miss work due to approved leave from their supervisors, commuting issues, injuries, or burnout. Infrequent planned absences are typically manageable by most companies, but when absences are frequent and involve numerous employees, they can have various negative effects. Common absences include:

  • when an employee calls in sick and misses work without finding a replacement

  • when a team member leaves the office before their shift is complete and doesn't assign their responsibilities to a colleague

  • when a team member misses multiple shifts without calling anyone to explain the situation

  • when numerous employees arrive late to work

Types of absences

Below are the three major types of workplace absences:

Authorized and planned absences

Authorized and planned absences are leaves or time offs that the employee and employer both agreed to and arranged. Examples include holiday leave, appointments, vacation, paternity or maternity leave, and flexible schedules. These also include federal, provincial, and religious holidays that the government may declare throughout the country. These absences are typically beneficial to the organization as they allow employees to relax and spend quality time with their friends and colleagues. Because everyone has an understanding of when they may occur, the organization can also schedule plans around these absences accordingly.

Unplanned but genuine absences

Absences may occur because of unplanned but genuine reasons. For example, if an employee becomes ill the morning of a workday, they may miss work to focus on their health and well-being. Examples of unplanned but genuine absences are family emergencies, accidents, burnout, and commuting issues. They're generally disruptive to the company's processes but are a regular and unavoidable part of life.

Unauthorized absences

If an absence is avoidable, unscheduled, and not genuine, then it's an unauthorized absence. These absences often disrupt workplace activities and cause irritation and annoyance with the employer and colleagues. They include participating in a work strike and willingly staying off work without any underlying or reasonable cause. It's important for an employee to avoid this type of absence as much as they can to keep their job and leave a positive impression on their employer and workmates.

Effects of absences in the workplace

Frequent, unplanned absences often leave significant effects on a company, such as:

Financial loss for employer and employee

Workplace absences, especially if unauthorized, can cause the organization to lose substantial capital. These losses often arise from hiring new employees and paying administrative costs and overtime. If a company misses a client's deadline because of employee absences, it may lose the contract or pay the cash equivalence of the effects of missing the deadline. These events all affect the company's balance negatively. Chronic absence also affects the employee, especially if they work hourly and receive bonuses and commissions for completed work.

Loss of productivity

An employee's absence may also decrease workplace productivity among other employees. When the team leader or manager assigns the task of an absent employee to a colleague, completing it may require them to abandon their tasks, then perform them later. The team leader may also reschedule meetings, reshuffle and reassign tasks among other members, and adjust timelines. Those all lead to inefficiencies in processes and a general decline in workplace productivity.

Poor work quality

Companies with high absences may also observe a decline in their work quality. That's because when employees assume the roles of their absent colleagues, they may experience increased stress and pressure on their work. The work may overwhelm them, which causes them to perform certain tasks unsatisfactorily to get them off their list. If the absent individual is a high-level employee who hasn't properly trained their replacement, the quality of work this replacement performs can be different. This decline in quality may lead to client and customer loss.

Negative workplace culture

Prolonged workplace absences can significantly impact corporate culture, especially if the company doesn't address it. Other employees may complain and resent the absent individual. They may also feel that the company is taking advantage of their commitment and loyalty. That may create tension and stress for managers, especially if these employees quit or take other actions.

Related: Valid Excuses for Missing Work (With Examples)

Minimizing workplace absenteeism

Below are the various ways to reduce absences in the workplace:


Communication as a tool for reducing the frequency of absences is important for both the employer and employee. If an employee observes they may be late to or miss work for a certain reason, communicating with their supervisor can assist with creating plans to manage that absence. Employers may also develop channels that facilitate the communication of schedules in the workplace. Many managers use scheduling apps that enable employees to send shift swap requests and direct messages.

Related: How to Use and Create a Time off Request Form

Attendance policy

Employers may also benefit from reviewing their policy regarding attendance and absence to include:

  • how to report absences

  • how to track absences

  • company's sick note policy

  • disciplinary action for frequent unapproved absences

  • effects of consistent absences on wage and salary

  • communication modalities for when employees are absent from work

By changing their policies and making them more comprehensive, the business can properly check employees' absences while still allowing the opportunity to take leaves and vacations when necessary. They may also quickly observe an employee's absence patterns, arrange a one-to-one meeting, discover the root cause, and help eliminate it.

Read more: What is an Attendance Policy? (With Definition and Tips)

Reward for good attendance

A company can show how much it values being present at work by rewarding punctual employees. This may incentivize these employees to resume early to the office on subsequent days and encourage absent or late employees to change their attendance habits. Rewarding employees can help provide positive reinforcement and cause them to be more willing to complete tasks that their late colleagues have left or abandoned.

Reward: What Is a Leave of Absence? (With Definitions and Types)

Employee improvement plan

A performance improvement plan, or employee improvement plan, is an attempt by organizations to give individuals with workplace challenges a chance to succeed at the office. For example, if an employer or manager notices a team member keeps missing or is coming late to work due to personal issues, they may offer to assist by creating a flexible schedule.

This schedule enables the employee to work during hours they find convenient, which can improve their productivity. Other improvement plans that can help address the issue of absence include offering accommodations, providing employees with cars, or assisting with bus passes and employee carpooling.

Read more: How to Develop Work Habits to Have a More Successful Career

Workplace health promotion

Workplace health promotions are experiencing an increase in popularity due to support and legislation by federal, provincial, and territorial governments. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety says that the difference between traditional health and safety programs and workplace health programs is that the latter contains specific laws that are mandatory for the company.

These programs generally offer personal health resources and services to a company's workforce. They follow a detailed plan showing the types of health services the company may offer, how and when to initiate them, and their required resources. The company also organizes the programs into three categories, including education, skill building, and the work environment. An effective WHP minimizes the chances of employees getting ill or injured and staying away from work for a long period.

Related: How to Maximize Employee Attendance (With Helpful Tips)

What is the employee absence rate?

Employee absence rate is a metric that measures the rate at which an employee is away from work. It's an important HR indicator that helps employers expect and prepare for absences, formulate absence policies, and decide on staff retrenchment and recruitment. To calculate this ratio, you take the number of days an employee is absent from work and divide it by the available working days in a specific period.

Please note that none of the companies, organizations, or institutions mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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