What Is Absenteeism and Why Is it a Problem for Productivity?

Published by Gavin Donnelly on

Everyone needs to take a day off from work from time to time, whether it be due to illness or needing to take care of something in their personal lives. This is perfectly normal, and most employers provide a certain number of sick days that employees can use for such needed days off. However, when an individual starts missing or staying away from work intentionally or habitually, this is called absenteeism, and it can begin to have a negative effect on the organization’s productivity.

Absenteeism Definition

Absenteeism is when employees frequently take unscheduled days off work without good reason. Statistics show that two out of three employees who take an unscheduled day off, or call in sick, aren’t actually ill or gone for the reason they say they are. There are many possible causes of absenteeism, some of which are unavoidable, legitimate reasons, and some of which can be addressed by managers to decrease absenteeism and keep productivity high.

Causes of Absenteeism

  • Burnout, stress, or low morale.
  • Childcare or eldercare.
  • Depression.
  • Bullying or harassment.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Illness or injury.
  • Seeking other job opportunities.

What Are the Costs of Absenteeism?

In the USA, it is estimated that absenteeism costs companies billions of dollars each year because of lost productivity, wages paid to absent employees, excess management time, and poorer quality of goods or services. An additional cost is that other employees at the company can become overburdened because they have to fill in for those who are absent, which can lead to low morale, stress, and burnout. This can lead to decreased productivity for the whole team and additional work for managers.

Dealing with Absenteeism

The responsibility for managing absenteeism in the workplace falls mainly on the immediate supervisors or managers of individuals who are chronically absent from work. It is a challenging problem to manage because it is often difficult to determine how legitimate an individual’s reasons for staying away from work are. However, it is important to know how to manage absenteeism in order to prevent it from having too big of a negative impact on productivity.

How Managers Can Deal with Absenteeism

  • Make sure all individuals are aware of the organization’s absence policies.
  • Directly speak with individuals who call in sick to work.
  • Maintain detailed absence reports for all staff.
  • Identify any patterns of absences.
  • Conduct return-to-work interviews with absent individuals.

One of the most effective ways for managers to deal with absenteeism is to conduct supportive return-to-work interviews. During these discussions, the manager should discuss the individual’s absence, make sure they are well enough to return to work, and address any underlying problems that are causing the absences, such as burnout or excessive stress at work. By doing this, a supportive and open culture is created in which employees feel that they can be open about any issues at work, and managers can voice any doubts or concerns they have. This helps to minimize the negative effects of absenteeism on productivity.


The definition of absenteeism is when individuals are chronically absent from work without good reason. Absenteeism has a negative effect on the overall productivity of teams and organizations as a whole, and costs companies in the U.S. alone billions of dollars a year in wasted revenue. However, many of the causes of absenteeism can be addressed by managers to minimize the negative effects of productivity. By having managers conduct return-to-work interviews with chronically absent individuals, organizations can create a supportive culture in which issues that may be causing absenteeism are addressed and solved so that productivity does not suffer.

Categories: Project management


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