Employee absenteeism can be a significant challenge for organisations, impacting productivity, morale, and the bottom line. Employee wellbeing plays a crucial role in addressing staff turnover. But how can organisations leverage effective strategies to reduce absenteeism, and what role do employee wellbeing programs play?  

Understanding Employee Absenteeism 

Defining Absenteeism 

Employee absenteeism refers to the consistent or recurrent absence of employees from work, whether due to physical illness, mental health issues, or other personal reasons. It goes beyond occasional sick leave and can negatively impact productivity, team dynamics, and overall workplace morale. 

According to Forbes, some of the main causes of employee absenteeism include: 

Health Issues: 

  • Physical ailments, chronic conditions, or injuries can lead to frequent absenteeism. 
  • Mental health challenges, such as stress, anxiety, or depression, may contribute to extended leaves. 

Job Dissatisfaction: 

  • A lack of job satisfaction, unfulfilling tasks, or a challenging work environment can demotivate employees. 
  • Poor relationships with colleagues or supervisors may lead to increased absenteeism. 

Personal Problems: 

  • Employees facing personal issues such as family problems, financial difficulties, or caregiving responsibilities may struggle to attend work consistently. 
  • Balancing work and personal life is crucial to prevent absenteeism related to external challenges. 

Workload and Burnout: 

  • Excessive workload, unrealistic expectations, and burnout can result in employees taking time off to recover. 
  • Creating a supportive work environment and addressing workload issues is essential for preventing burnout-related absenteeism. 

The predicted cost of low productivity due to employee absenteeism in Australia is $44 billion annually.  

Recognising the Signs of Absenteeism 

Absenteeism often manifests as a symptom of underlying issues. Watch out for subtle signs such as increased sick leave, decreased productivity, presenteeism and disengagement. Identifying these indicators early on allows for proactive intervention.  

Presenteeism vs Absenteeism 

What is Presenteeism? 

Presenteeism, the phenomenon of employees being physically present but mentally disengaged can be a significant contributor to absenteeism. Presenteeism can results due to a lack of job security and poor support when reporting mental illness within the workplace.  

It is reported that whilst absenteeism was considered most harmful to businesses, presenteeism costs businesses 10x more than absenteeism. Absent employees cost employers USD $150 billion per year, however employees who go to work and are not fully productive cost USD $1,500 billion per year. A report by Safer Work Australia explores this cost further, stating that the total cost of depression alone to Australian employers through presenteeism and absenteeism is estimated to be $6.3 billion per annum.  

Identifying presenteeism involves been attuned to the wellbeing of employees. Unsure of what presenteeism looks like in the workplace? You can download our Presenteeism Checklist here.  

Key Workplace Factors Influencing Employee Absenteeism 

Assess Psychosocial Hazards 

To address both presenteeism and absenteeism, it’s imperative to assess psychosocial hazards within the workplace. These hazards encompass factors like job demands, work-related stress, and interpersonal relationships. Utilising tools and surveys to identify psychosocial risks allows organisations to tailor interventions that not only mitigate absenteeism but also create a positive work environment. 

Employers should pay attention to workload distribution, ensuring it aligns with employee capabilities and wellbeing. Additionally, fostering positive interpersonal relationships, offering mental health resources are vital components of a comprehensive strategy. 

Cultivate a Positive Workplace Culture 

A positive workplace culture encourages collaboration, transparency, and a sense of belonging. Recognise and reward employees for their efforts and create an inclusive atmosphere. Such a culture not only reduces absenteeism but also contributes to employee retention.  

Leadership and Management Practices Impacting Absenteeism 

Leaders play a crucial role in setting the tone for the entire organisation. Invest in leadership training programs that emphasise effective communication, and a people-first approach. Educate your leaders on how to recognise the signs of presenteeism and burnout. A strong leadership team can positively influence employee wellbeing and, consequently, reduce absenteeism. 

Promoting a Healthy Work-Life Balance 

Research by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency underscores the importance of a healthy work-life balance in reducing absenteeism. Flexible work arrangements including flexible start and finish times and the combining and sharing of roles has been found to improve organisational productivity, attract and retain employees and improve overall wellbeing. Additionally, encouraging employees to take breaks, use their holiday time, and disconnect after work hours contribute to a more engaged and present workforce. 

The Role of Wellbeing Programs 

A report publishing by Comcare highlights that organisations with wellbeing programs experience a decrease in sick leave absenteeism rates by 25%. Healthier employees spend fewer days away from work due to illness, saving organisations the cost of lost productivity. A comprehensive employee wellbeing program that focuses on both physical and mental health is crucial in addressing employee absenteeism.