Top Reasons For Employee Absenteeism

Top Reasons For Employee Absenteeism  726 X 561Px

Absenteeism in the workplace can be a complex issue, causing both direct and indirect costs for companies. By disrupting schedules and contributing to missed deadlines, it can lead to a loss of income, as well as harming workplace morale if other employees have to pick up the slack. 

While the effects of high levels of absenteeism can be felt by large organisations, it’s particularly harmful for small-to-medium sized businesses. As they rely on smaller teams, even a single absence can have a significant impact on productivity. The potential financial consequences of employee absenteeism are also more likely to affect SMBs, who may have lower profit margins. 

In this article, we’re going to explore the employee absenteeism meaning, discuss some main causes of employee absenteeism, the impact on businesses, and how to minimise absenteeism in the workplace. 

What is absenteeism in the workplace?

Before we jump into the causes and cost of employee absenteeism, let’s firstly define absenteeism and how it impacts the workforce.  

Absenteeism in the workplace refers to when an employee displays a repeated pattern of not turning up for work. It varies from regular, authorised absences to being unplanned and habitual. For example, an employee requiring an unexpected day off to deal with a family emergency could be a genuine but unplanned absence if it’s an isolated occurrence. However, if you notice that an employee regularly requests absences without notice or authorisation, this would fall into the category of absenteeism. 

What are the causes of employee absenteeism?

Common causes of employee absenteeism in the UK include family responsibilities, illness, and a lack of satisfaction in the workplace. A poor work-life balance and a lack of suitable support systems can also contribute to employee absences. 

The 23rd annual CIPD Health and wellbeing at work report found that, in 2023, the average level of employee absence rose to 7.8 days per employee, or 3.4% of working time lost. While this is the highest level of absence reported for over a decade, the main causes remain the same. 

In their survey, CIPD asked employers the top 3 reasons for absences in their organisation. For short-term absences (up to 4 weeks), the most common reason was minor illness, with 97% of employers putting this in their top 3. For long-term absences, (4 weeks or longer), the most common reason cited was mental ill health, with 63% of employers putting this in their top 3. 

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the different causes of employee absenteeism. 


In our Sick Leave Report 2024, which gathered data from 1,775 SMBs, we found that there’s been an increase of 55% in sickness absence rates in the last 5 years. The average number of sick days taken across the company in a year has risen from 81 to 128 days, with the Arts, Entertainment and Recreation sector seeing the biggest increase in employees taking sick leave at 159%. 

Illness covers a wide range of circumstances, including minor sicknesses like colds and migraines, acute medical conditions such as cancer and stroke, recurring medical conditions like asthma and angina, and mental ill health. It’s therefore important to consider a broad approach to sickness absences to ensure a strategy that is comprehensive and effective. 

Family responsibilities

It’s important to remember that every employee in your organisation is an individual with their own lives outside of work. Family responsibilities such as childcare, looking after an elderly relative or an unexpected emergency may require them to be home or attend appointments during normal working hours. Not having reasonable measures in place to support these instances can lead to employees taking unauthorised absences. 

Workplace dissatisfaction

Employees who are unhappy with their role or working environment are less likely to feel actively motivated to attend. For example, an employee may be experiencing issues such as workplace harassment or poor leadership, which could make being at work unpleasant. In these instances, failure to address the underlying cause is what turns an occasional day off into chronic absenteeism. 

Similarly, an employee may also be frequently absent from work because they’re looking for another job. Interviews usually take place during normal business hours, and they may feel resentful of using their annual leave allowance for job hunting, instead telling a ‘little white lie’ and claiming to be ill. With unhappy employees taking 9 more sick days a year than their happier counterparts, employee engagement is an important consideration for any employee absenteeism strategy. 

Work-life balance

Juggling the demands of their job with their personal responsibilities can be challenging for employees. With the COVID-19 pandemic making remote and hybrid working essential for many businesses, workers have been given a taste of the freedom and flexibility of not being tied to a physical location. With 78% of employees who are able to work from home in some capacity reporting an improved work-life balance, it’s important to consider how different working models in your organisation can affect absenteeism. 

Stress and burnout

High levels of stress and burnout can lead to an increase in absenteeism, impacting on productivity and potentially causing even more stress as employees try to keep up. In our recent Annual Leave Report, we found that annual leave taken in the UK dropped by 7.67% from 2022 to 2023, suggesting that employees are feeling pressured to work more. 

However, instead of helping to manage workloads, not taking annual leave may have the opposite effect. By not taking breaks due to staff shortages or a fear of falling behind, employees may end up taking off more time due to stress and burnout in the future. Encouraging team members to use their holiday entitlement helps them to get the rest they need to prevent stress and burnout. 

Support systems

Not having adequate support systems in place can exacerbate the various different issues we’ve looked at above that lead to absenteeism. Not knowing who to turn to should an issue arise could mean that employees choose not to address the situation, which can lead to burnout and dissatisfaction. 

As an employer, it’s important to make sure that each individual feels supported and capable enough to carry out their job role. Allocating mentors and team leaders, implementing robust complaint and disciplinary procedures, and adopting a proactive approach to employee feedback can help to give employees the support they need. 

The cost of employee absenteeism

While sickness absences cost UK businesses up to £40 billion in 2022, the true financial impact of employee absenteeism goes beyond lost work hours. Although there is of course the direct cost of paying for lost hours while employees are absent, there are many indirect costs that can have an even greater impact, especially for SMBs with limited resources. 

The hidden cost of employee absenteeism includes: 

Disruption to operations 

Being absent from work doesn’t just impact a single employee’s workload; the decrease in productivity can disrupt wider operations and workflows throughout the organisation. This can cause project delays, missed deadlines, customer service issues or interruptions in production processes, which can in turn impact relationships with customers and suppliers. 

Overtime and temporary staff

It’s often necessary for an organisation to pay for overtime or temporary staff to cover the workload of an absent employee, particularly for long-term absences. As well as the cost of paying for these workers, employers may also incur training and recruitment expenses. 

Decreased morale 

Absenteeism can affect team morale and interpersonal relationships, particularly for those who have to take up the slack when a coworker is absent. If this happens frequently, it can lead to stress and resentment within the team, increasing the likelihood of further instances of absenteeism. 

Increased employee turnover

High absenteeism rates can contribute to increased employee turnover as dissatisfaction grows among the workforce. This can lead to recruitment and onboarding costs for new hires, eating up valuable budget that could be better spent elsewhere. 

How to reduce absenteeism in the workplace

The first step to taking control of absenteeism in your workplace is to ensure that all absences are not only tracked accurately but also monitored and analysed. The Bradford Factor is used by HR professionals to measure the impact of absenteeism on the workforce, using the theory that short, frequent and unplanned absences are more disruptive than longer absences. 

Categorising absences in this way can help employers to identify problematic patterns of frequent short absences that can disrupt workflows, as well as identifying employees who may need additional support. The easiest way for SMBs to do this is to use specialised absence management software that is able to rack absence data, identify trends, and automate reporting. 

Once instances of employee absenteeism have been identified, it’s important to take steps to address the underlying issues. This could include: 

  • Addressing work-life balance issues by offering flexible work arrangements 
  • Offering support systems for childcare or other dependents needs 
  • Implementing employee wellness programmes to support mental and physical health 
  • Carrying out performance management reviews where absences are due to lack of engagement 
  • Implementing employee engagement strategies to motivate your workforce 

Whichever methods you choose, it’s important to regularly review absenteeism in your workplace. This will help you to spot emerging patterns and put a strategy in place before they become a more serious problem. 

Managing absenteeism in the workplace with PeopleHR

There are many reasons why employees may be absent from work, including illness, family responsibilities and workplace dissatisfaction, making it a complex issue to manage. Understanding the difference between legitimate absences and habitual absenteeism is therefore essential before employers can put appropriate measures in place, as well as knowledge of the underlying causes of these absences. 

With so many different factors contributing to absenteeism, it’s important to have the right tools and procedures to mitigate unnecessary absences. Absence management software can help HR professionals to better understand absenteeism in the workplace by enabling them to track and analyse employee leave within a single system. This gives them the data-driven insights they need to create better strategies to support employees and increase productivity. 



Jake Fields
By Jake Fields New Business Sales Representative

Jake Fields is a New Business Sales Representative at Access PeopleHR. With a diverse background spanning customer service, training, and sales, he is a seasoned professional in all things HR software. Jake's global training experience has cultivated strong client relationships across a range of industries. A true people person at heart, his mission is to provide tailored solutions and support individuals throughout their HR journey.