Your No-Nonsense Strategy for Managing Employee Absenteeism

May 19, 2020


Employee absenteeism is a very real, large problem for organizations.

Some companies don’t know the financial and operational impacts of absenteeism and thus don’t have the right tools in place to identify absentee issues. This means they are losing money and productivity needlessly. That’s why it’s crucial for organizations to understand what employee absenteeism is, what causes it, and how to control it.

What is employee absenteeism?

Simply put, employee absenteeism is defined as frequent absence from the workplace. But there are different types of absenteeism. The two different types of absenteeism are innocent and culpable. While both are costly, innocent absenteeism is caused by legitimate problems and in most cases, can’t be controlled. Culpable absenteeism happens without cause and are within the employee’s control.

employee absenteeism stats

Research indicates an upward trend in employee absenteeism, and some estimates show as much as 20 percent of payroll expenses are attributable to it.

Who is most likely to intentionally miss work?

Most companies understand the legitimate reasons to miss work. Chronic health conditions cause some absenteeism, as well as other personal causes, including family issues and elderly or child care.

Intentional absenteeism is more ambiguous. The most common times for absenteeism are Mondays, Fridays, and around holidays, sporting events, or festivals. Individuals most likely to intentionally miss work are those who:

  • Don’t feel appreciated/acknowledged for their work
  • Feel disengaged from their role/job
  • Are on their way out (looking for another job)
  • Are being bullied or harassed in the workplace
  • Are feeling burned out
  • Have a sense of entitlement

Ultimately, these reasons boil down to stress and personal needs, and it’s up to employers to identify the issues behind the absences and how best they can be resolved.

6 ways to reduce absenteeism in the workplace

The average hourly worker costs US companies $2,660 in excess absenteeism each year. Depending on the size of your business, you could be losing anywhere from thousands to millions of dollars due to absenteeism. Here’s how you can take charge and reduce absenteeism in your organization.

1. Create an employee absenteeism policy

Before tackling the issue of absenteeism, you should develop a comprehensive absenteeism policy that everyone clearly understands. This policy will ideally cover:

  • Leaves (authorized and unauthorized)
  • Tardiness
  • Early clock-outs
  • No-shows

Research has found that absenteeism policies that include recognition and rewards for being present as well as consequences for excessive absenteeism are more effective. Rather than having a policy that only provides for negative consequences, try to include some positive reinforcement policies as well.

A great attendance policy will provide guidelines for everyone not just on what is expected, but also on penalties and rewards regarding absenteeism. The policy should clearly define the differences between excused and unexcused absences.

An excused absence includes those where:

  • The employee requests time off in advance that they have accrued as paid time off (PTO).
  • The employee makes the request within a specified, reasonable time period prior to taking it (ideally a two-week notice although this is not always possible).
  • The requested time off is approved by the supervisor.

Unexcused absences are those that don’t meet any of the above mentioned guidelines. There are times when emergencies happen and your policy should allow for that. For example, if an employee experiences a sudden sickness or accident/injury, this can’t be controlled so make sure you have something in place that addresses such instances. In these cases, you can require the employees to provide you with a doctor’s note or proof of the reason behind their absence.

Sometimes, a valuable employee might experience a personal hardship, perhaps a death in the family, transportation problems, or a sudden need to relocate. Try to keep such instances in mind when building a comprehensive attendance policy because these things can and do happen. You don’t want to have to terminate an employee for an unfortunate personal event or circumstance.

2. Keep track of employee absences

Depending on your company’s structure, keeping track of absences can be more challenging for some than others. Brick-and-mortar establishments can physically monitor when employees are working. However, many of today’s organizations are offering either remote work or flexible scheduling. In fact, remote work has increased over the past 10 years by a staggering 91 percent.

Companies with field or remote workers face unique challenges when it comes to tracking absences. For these situations, cloud-based, time-tracking, and shift scheduling technology can be a life-saver. Scheduling is critical for maintaining productivity, decreasing turnover rates, keeping operations running smoothly, and assisting in payroll and time tracking.

employee scheduling benefits

Even for in-office establishments, there are new, more accurate, and effective ways to use things like kiosk clocks and web-based time tracking solutions that simplify tracking employees’ hours and absences. No-show and no-call employees cost companies a lot of money, as well. If an employee is a no-show/no-call worker, make sure you have a clear process on how to deal with it.

3. Address repeat (non-scheduled) absences with the employee

Once you have a plan in place to monitor absences and an absenteeism policy, you and your employees will be clear about what they can expect with repeated, unapproved absences. Bear in mind, you will need to be prepared to follow through with these procedures.

If you have an employee who is historically punctual but is suddenly tardy more often than not, there may be a legitimate reason why. Likewise, employees who are typically reliable that become frequently absent, might be experiencing something outside of work that’s affecting their presence.

As their leader, it falls to you to determine if the excessive absenteeism or tardiness warrants consequences (i.e. blatant disregard) or if it is a situation that could be remedied with an adjustment to their scheduling (i.e. transportation or childcare issues).

4. Determine how many is too many

To figure out how many absences are too many, consider the averages. There are currently no PTO requirements from the federal government, but many companies are required to honor the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

average pto

Although there are no federal requirements for PTO, 11 states and the District of Columbia require certain companies to provide paid sick leave to their employees.

The CDC’s most recent data show that adults ages 18 to 64 missed an average of four days of work from the previous year. The BLS reports that over half of employers provide five to nine days of paid sick leave after one year of service, a quarter offer fewer than five days, and another quarter offers more than 10 per year. Depending on the size of your organization, these numbers can help you determine how many absences are too many for your specific business.

5. Create a plan of action for repeat offenders

When you have an absentee policy in place, it’s important to stick to it. Excessive absenteeism doesn’t just cost in dollars. Research shows that as much as 36.6 percent of productivity is lost to unplanned absences. This is sure to affect employee morale.

For habitual offenders, a plan of action might be:

  • First offense: Verbal warning
  • Second offense: Verbal warning with a written warning that explains the consequences of another absence
  • Third offense: Unpaid leave or termination

It’s important that you or the supervisor or HR department keep accurate records of all of these offenses and the corresponding actions that are taken. It’s also important to make sure everyone is treated with the same expectations and consequences. This doesn’t just help with controlling excessive absenteeism but also with company morale.

You should also be sure that you are prepared to follow up with the procedures outlined. Of course, it’s not a comfortable thing to have to terminate someone but sometimes it is essential for the betterment of the company and overall employee morale.

6. Praise employees who get back on track

Praise and recognition for a “great job” are appreciated by workers, naturally, but these blanket praises don’t really address their punctuality specifically.

Rather than remarking positively in general, try to be more specific: I love how reliable you’ve been. It’s great to be able to count on you being here. I love the fact that you’re always on time.

These statements reinforce a specific action that psychologist Carol Dweck says are much more effective in motivating and inspiring people.

Employee attendance policy template

An attendance policy doesn’t have to be complex and complicated, full of legal and HR jargon. A simple example is something like this:

Attendance policy

Good attendance is essential to every job and demonstrates a responsible, professional attitude. Conversely, unexcused or excessive absences are serious offenses.

Please follow these guidelines when you are absent:

  • Your direct supervisor should be informed of all expected absences as soon as possible: a two-week notice is preferred.
  • Notice of unexpected absences should be given as soon as possible, but at least one hour before your shift is to begin.
  • If you cannot give prior notice, please talk to your supervisor and HR as soon as possible. We’ll want to know why you could not give notice.
  • If you fail to return to work after a scheduled leave or are absent without notice for two consecutive workdays, we will assume that you have abandoned your job, and we’ll send you a letter ending your employment.

No definite rule can be established to govern discipline for excessive absenteeism or tardiness. Individual circumstances and job demands differ. Therefore, we reserve the right to discipline you for excessive absenteeism or tardiness any time we determine that your absences or tardies, if not protected by law, are unreasonably disruptive to our work or detrimental to efficient operations or employee morale.

Account for your workplace culture

We are hearing a lot about things like work/life balance, employee well-being, and company culture nowadays.

That’s because having a healthy work environment that promotes overall wellbeing is actually helpful for companies’ bottom lines. Happy workers are more productive so if you’re seeing a decline in employee morale, engagement, and presence, it might be a good time to take a look at your workplace culture.

  • Are you looking at your employees as humans with real problems?
  • Are you talking to them to find out if they are doing okay?
  • Do you have an easy and comfortable way for employees to share bullying or harassment problems on the job?
  • Do they feel comfortable talking to you?
  • Are you getting feedback from them on ways to make the workplace better?

When your employees feel they are a part of something bigger than themselves and they matter to your company, they will be more likely to perform their best. Instead of finding excuses to miss work, they will embrace the role they hold in your organization because they feel it is important and not just a way to earn a paycheck.

Keep things simple

Remember your attendance policy doesn’t have to be so complicated that nobody can understand it nor does it need to be overbearing. Consistency and simplicity can go a long way.

Make sure it is included in your employee handbook and distributed throughout your workplace so everyone is clear about the expectations you have for their attendance. Ensure that all supervisors are also clear on the expectations and consequences that are associated with absences. If you have one supervisor or team leader who’s going “by the book” and another who tends to let things slide, you risk creating an environment of mistrust and inconsistency.


While we can’t eliminate absenteeism completely, it is clearly a problem that most companies face. With planning, communication, transparency, and accountability, your company can significantly improve productivity and efficiency by ensuring your people not only come to work when they should but even enjoy the time they spend there. 

Another less conventional way to deal with employee absenteeism is introducing an unlimited PTO program to your office. See how you might benefit from a shift in policy today. 

Your No-Nonsense Strategy for Managing Employee Absenteeism Are your employees constantly running late or not showing up for their shifts? Learn how to combat employee absenteeism to make sure this doesn't keep happening to you.
Cristina Johnson Cristina Johnson writes for ClockShark, a leading time tracking app for construction and field services. She is a marketing writer and international journalist specializing in corporate social responsibility, human resources, and company culture.

Never miss a post.

Subscribe to keep your fingers on the tech pulse.

By submitting this form, you are agreeing to receive marketing communications from G2.