Employee Retention

The real effects of absenteeism in the workplace

effects of absenteeism in the workplace


If you’re a business owner or in human resources, then this is not a new concept to you. 

Absenteeism within the right set of circumstances is often not a concern for many businesses. 

Absenteeism, when it becomes frequent and rather excessive with little to no communication, is a problem. 

Research by Momentum Corporate suggests that South African businesses are losing up to R89 billion a year due to distracted and absent employees. 

It is then fair to say the effects of absenteeism in the workplace are very real and tangible. Today, we’re going to look at what absenteeism is and what the actual effects of it are on your business. Feel free to skip ahead to the section that interests you most: 


  1. What is employee absenteeism 
  2. What causes staff absenteeism
  3. How to measure employee absenteeism [formula included]
  4. The business impact of employee absenteeism
  5. 3 Tips for reducing absenteeism in the workplace


What is employee absenteeism? 

Absenteeism in the workplace specifically refers to an unreasonable and frequent absence from work. This absence extends beyond official leave, sick days or personal time off. This often occurs without official notice or communication. 

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What causes staff absenteeism? 

There are several reasons as to why an employee may frequently be missing from work. To truly get to the bottom of some of the causes it will require you to exercise empathy. 


  • Mental health. This is a very real issue so many people face. It’s important to encourage an environment that takes mental health seriously. 
  • Bullying or harassment. Sadly this is a common cause of absenteeism. If an employee is experiencing any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination they more likely they are to stay at home when it becomes too much to handle. 
  • Health issues. An employee may be suffering from a health issue, and whilst sick days are permitted this issue is more about the communication around an illness. 
  • Grief. The loss of a family member, pet or friend can cause huge amounts of grief for an employee. It’s important to allow employees the time and space to work through their emotions and any logistical issues that may arise from a death. 
  • Low morale. Low energy and a disengaged attitude to an employees work can have a huge impact on the morale they may experience at work. 
  • Burnout. Employees that are working too hard or under pressure for too long experience high levels of burnout will result in a disengaged attitude towards their work. This especially important with many businesses taking to work from home policies in the wake of COVID-19. Many employees are working longer hours despite not being in a formal office environment. 
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It’s one thing to come to terms with some of the underlying causes of absenteeism, but another to try and overcome them as a business. 

It’s important to note, that no matter how big your business is, it’s made up of humans, who live and experience life through their own lenses. Your employees have skills, talents, passions, ideas and families and friends outside of the workplace. All of those external people and circumstances affect how they interact and engage at work. 


How to measure employee absenteeism [formula included]

The formula is straightforward. You take the number of absent days over a given time frame and then divide it by the total period and then multiply that number by 100. This will give you a percentage of absenteeism. 

The formula looks like this: 

((# of unexcused absences)/total period) x 100 = % of Absenteeism

To get a holistic view of absenteeism in your workplace, you must differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate absenteeism. As mentioned above, it’s the frequent absence from the workplace with little or no communication or reasoning before an employee missing a day. 

This percentage should provide you with a better understanding of how absenteeism may be negatively affecting your business. 


What is the business impact of absenteeism? 

The Momentum Effective Employee Index found that South African companies lose an estimated R25bn per year to absenteeism.

Staff absenteeism is one of the single most expensive issues affecting companies today. 

The above study also found that employers are losing an average is R596 566 per 100 employees per year due to both absenteeism and unproductive employees.

It is evident that both absent and unproductive/distracted employees are costly to your business and negatively impact your bottom line.

But there’s more…

Frequent absenteeism does not only have monetary effects, but it can also negatively impact employee morale and your overall productivity levels. 

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Take a look:

It can decrease productivity levels:

Unplanned leave is disruptive for everyone in the company. 

Absent staff means that tasks have to be re-delegated to other employees, and at times may even require, over time.  

You may also experience a drop in quality  

Depending on the skill level of the absent employee you experience a drop in quality that could also result in a decrease in customer satisfaction

Critical tasks are also affected when your staff are absent. 

Staff who are overloaded may not be able to get to their work and can even deter project timelines.

A decrease in overall morale:

While it is difficult to put statistics to it, animosity can quickly escalate amongst the reliable staff who do show up for work. Because they now have to absorb extra responsibilities on top of their existing workload. It can result in low engagement and an increase in turnover that further digs into the company’s bottom line.


3 Tips for reducing absenteeism in the workplace 

To reduce absenteeism in the workplace targeted strategies will help you increase productivity and, of course, help reduce absenteeism. 


  • Employee recognition and rewards. 

Recognising and rewarding your employees for work well done has the ability to motivate and engage your employees. 

If you want a healthy bottom line, you’re going to need happy, engaged staff.

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  • Policy refinement.  

Your policies on leave, bereavement or sick days may need refining to provide clearer guidelines as to what’s acceptable. 

Your policy should also include what procedures will follow should excessive absenteeism be something that needs addressing.


  • Feedback and communication. 

According to research, by Gallup managers who frequently communicate with their employees are 3 times more engaged than employees who receive no feedback. 

In fact, 43% of highly-engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week. You may want to consider a feedback and communication plan so your employees have an avenue to safely and effectively communicate with their managers. 


Key Takeaways

The effects of absenteeism cannot be overstated. It costs your business in revenue as well as negatively impacting productivity and overall morale of your employees. 

Did you know that employee recognition in the workplace can help you reduce absenteeism? 

Our SaaS-based recognition platform offers on-the-go recognition, is quick to implement and mobile-friendly. We’re currently offering your business a FREE 30-day trial. Click the button below to get started 👇

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