Productivity loss due to absenteeism is a serious growing challenge.

We live in an absenteeism culture. Talking a day off and calling in sick is supported and encouraged by the society. Many people’s attitude is” The time is coming to us” (Robert F.Allen and Michael Higgens- the Absenteeism Culture. Becoming attendance oriented.)

Unscheduled absenteeism is on the rise and the rates of absenteeism are at their highest since 1999. The major concern is that almost two out of three employees who do not show up aren’t physically ill or have challenging issues.

Absence measurement and management is an increasingly growing body of knowledge and experience that managers apply to control and reduce absenteeism and its accruing costs.

To ensure that the issue of absenteeism is effectively addressed, managers and supervisors-armed with the required guidance and training, need to understand the circumstances and factors surrounding absenteeism in the workplace, and thus actively participate in the company’s procedures and policies to effective curb absenteeism in the workplace.

Employers attempt to cut down excessive employee absenteeism through tighter controls. They demand doctor’s report or use some other punitive mechanisms that targets symptoms of absenteeism rather than its causes. The problem will not go away unless the underlying root causes are removed. Building an attendance culture!

How should absenteeism effectively be managed? Triggers or incentives? / Carrots or sticks?


Absenteeism from workplace has been on the increase and may be an indicative of poor morale, lack of motivation, sick building syndrome, poor organizational polities or mere indiscipline from the employees. However, many employers have introduced and implemented absence policies which make no distinction between absence for genuine reasons or illness and absence for inappropriate reasons. One of these policies is the calculation of the Bradford Factor, which only factors total number and frequency of individual absence into account, neglecting the kind of absence.

40 million days are lost each year in the UK, due to workplace absenteeism,93% of employees say cold and flu are the reason for being away from work, but research has shown that in reality, half of absenteeism in the workplace has nothing whatsoever to do with health. Workers decide to stay away from work for a host of other reasons relating to work and personal issues, which range from job de-motivation, low pay, lack of work life balance and occasional hangover.

Absenteeism has been viewed traditionally as a breach of an implicit contract between employee and employer, as a management problem and has been framed in economic terms. This report will critically discuss the causes and effects of absenteeism in the workplace with the view to derive effective ways to measure and manage absenteeism. It will seek to understand absenteeism as an indicator of psychological, social adjustment to work.

1. What do we mean by Absenteeism?

According to dictionary, Absenteeism can be defined as habitual failure to appear, especially for work and other regular duty. The rate occurrence of habitual absence from work or duty.

Absenteeism can be viewed as re-occurring absence from work, duty and obligation, thought to reflect employee demoralization or dissatisfaction.

This can also be viewed as a breach of the implicit contract that exists between the employer and the employed.

Simply put, Failure to report to or stay at work when scheduled is tagged absenteeism.

1.1 Absenteeism can be grouped into two categories –

Involuntary/Innocent absenteeism: This is when absences are unavoidable and understandable. For instance

Absences due to death in the family

Pregnancy or Maternity issues

Absences caused by illness or injury

Car/ vehicle issues

Other family related or personal issues

Accidents and natural disasters

Disability-related absenteeism- Human rights obligations

Voluntary/Culpable Absenteeism: Voluntary absenteeism is an instance where an employee, out of his own freewill or laziness, chooses to stay off work. Absences in this case are avoidable.

Missing work without advance notice, to go the cinema or watch football

Making excuses for consistent late coming to work

Deceitfully/fraudulently applying for sick leave or calling in ‘sick’

Failure to report to work as scheduled or showing up late for no good reason

1.2 Causes of Absenteeism in the workplace

There are various factors that could influence an employee to be absent at work. These factors are as follows

Personal Factors:

Personal Attitude: individuals posses different attitudes and bring these attitudes forth to the workplace. Employees with strong workplace ethics will respect their work and appreciate their contribution to the organisation and as such, will not take unscheduled off from the workplace. Conversely, employees with low or without work ethics are in- disciplined and have behavioural issues. Because they feel no obligation to the organisation, absenteeism comes easily to them.

Age: The age of an employee often affects their attitude to work. The younger the employees are often restless, they want to have fun and be with friends rather than being tied down with responsibilities. This leads to lack of ownership and usually leads to unscheduled and unauthorised time off.

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Gender: Women are usually challenged with balancing their time between work and home. Their families are always the utmost priority, thus they would rather be absent from work to sort out family issues

Workplace Factors:

Organizational Culture: Every organisation is a culture with its own norms. An organisation with an embedded absenteeism culture, screen played by its management and supervisors lack of commitment would encourage further employee absenteeism

Lack of Motivation and Rewards: The relationship between the organisation and its employees is influenced by what motives them to work and the rewards and fulfilment they derive from it. Inability of managers or employers to motivate employees and meet their extrinsic and intrinsic needs would lead to lack if motivation and commitment hence, absenteeism in the workplace

Absence of learning culture: Learning means change, thus can affect organisations effectiveness. Employees love to work in an organisation where they would improve themselves and their career through organisational learning and knowledge management, which could be inculcated through coaching, mentoring, trainings and other explicit methods. In an organisation where a learning culture is absent, employees feel de-motivated, unsatisfied and feel their career growth is threatened. Hence they excuse themselves from work without authorisation in search for greater challenges and organisations where they would gain improve themselves.

Stress at work: According to a report cited in Financial Times: ‘Stress at work is the biggest problem in European companies’

Voluntary absenteeism takes place because employees are dissatisfied with their job; hence they feel stressed doing the work either because of the work load or unsuitable assigned roles. {Egs} wrongly assigning a customer service manager to manage treasury department, without adequate experience and training. Due to lack of adequate experience in the field and fixed timed deliverables and tasks, he feels stressed and harassed in the role and thus breaks down into stress or depression and seeks sick leave and abandons the job.

Voluntary Absenteeism also takes place where the employees feel there is a strain on their psychological contract with the employer, this indirectly erupts lack of organizational commitment. This strain could develop to stress and impact on employee attendance to work.

Leadership Style: An organization’s, team or unit leadership style could impact on employee commitment, job satisfaction with improved or impaired participation and attendance to work.

While Democratic and laissez fair leadership style encourages shared decision making, shared responsibility, creativity and participation and can be highly motivational, which enhances teamwork and interpersonal relations. Autocratic and paternalistic leadership styles could de-motivate and alienate employees. Employees might feel less important in the organisation, hence the need to avoid work.

Work Routine and lack of Change: doing the same job or task over a long period of time can get monotonous. The employees get bored and thus might choose to take unauthorised time off to do something he considers interesting than going to work.

Job Satisfaction: if employees do not find their work interesting, satisfying and challenging, they feel dissatisfied, which leads to increased absenteeism in the workplace

Work life balance: Organisation who not factor employee’s roles and work life such that a balance is stroked with work and the individual’s personal life commitments and family would experience increased employee absenteeism.

Conflict in the workplace: ultimately increases chances of employee absenteeism.

Lack of team spirit: A team that lacks unity, synergy and good interpersonal relationship amongst its members, will be a weak and unproductive. Such team members will lack team spirit-the spirit that bonds individuals in a team. This lack of team spirit can de-motivate team members, make them work in isolation, they would lack the sense of belonging, love and satisfaction. There would exist, fears of the unknown, lack of trust for team members. These feelings will encourage an employee to stay off work.

Social Factors: factors such as difficult community circumstances like

High crime and intimidation rates which constitutes fear in employee’s catalyses absenteeism in the workplace. Other social factors are –

Lack of transportation/transport facilities

Poverty levels



Labour Strikes

1.3 Effects of Absenteeism in the workplace

When a company has an absentee problem, it has a profit problem. Absenteeism can take a deep financial toll on any business, whether a small or multinational company. There are also other significant effects associated with excessive absenteeism:

Decreased Productivity: in a team of people doing interrelated tasks, if one persistent remains absent or fails to deliver, it creates a domino effect on productivity.

It affects employee/team morale: this is due to the fact that additional stress are places on employees who act as replacements or assume additional tasks for absentees

Absenteeism causes disruptions in the workplace and impacts on the SLA’s

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It affects customer service levels, turnaround times, customer loyalty and satisfaction.

It affect or disrupts effective team formation and operations

It may create a perception of unfairness amongst employees

It affects the bottom-line

2.0 Measuring Absenteeism

2.1 Why measure absenteeism?

It is pertinent to measure the rate of absenteeism in the workplace. Measuring employee’s absenteeism is a good way to measure Overall Labour Effectiveness (OLE) in the workplace, which is a key performance indicator (KPI) that measures the utilization, performance and quality of the workforce and its impact on productivity.

Monitoring staff absence rates helps to trace the pattern of employee attendance. To monitor and check dead times, in the workplace, to derive and measure resources and costs incurred due to employee absenteeism with the aim of devising effective methods to manage absenteeism in the workplace.

In measuring absenteeism in the workplace, we derive the ratio of its administrative, financial and productivity cost to the organisation which will enable development of strategies to curb absenteeism while rechanneling resources more effectively to effect the bottom-line positively.

Administrative costs of Absenteeism:

Time consumed in controlling absenteeism

Time consumed in sourcing replacements and re-assigning duties.

Supervisor’s time

Financial Costs: this are the costs accruing form

Overtime costs

Replacement employee costs

Training costs

Over staffing costs

Productivity Costs:

Replaced productivity and loss of output costs

the costs of supporting replacement employees

Costs accrued in training new or replacement staff/hiring temp staff

Substandard production

2.2 Ways of Measuring Absenteeism

The Total Tim lost:

Number of person-days lost through job absence during period X 100

(Average number of employees) x (Number of Work days)

This rate also can be based on number of hours instead of number of days.

The “individual frequency” formula: This is calculated as thus :

Individual frequency = (Num of Absent Employees/Average Number of Employees) x100

The Bradford Factor or Bradford Formula: According to the Chartered Institute of Personal and Development, the term was first coined due to its supposed connection with research undertaken by the Bradford University School of Management in the 1980s.

It was developed as a way of highlighting the misappropriate level of disruption on an organisation’s performance that can be caused by short-term employee absence compared to incidences of prolonged absence. In contrast, it is considered short-sighted and unlikely to be successful which could lead to staff dissatisfaction and grievances.

The Bradford factor can be calculated as follows:

B= S2 x D where:

B is the Bradford Factor score

S is the total number of spells(instances) of absence of an individual over a set period

D is the total number of days of absence of that individual over the same set period

The ‘set period’ is typically set as a rolling 52 week period.

For example:

1 instance of absence with a duration of 15 days (1x 1 x 5)= 5 points

4 instances of absence; one of one, one of four and one of six days (4 x 4 x 5) =80 points

6 instances of absences ;each for two days (6 x 6 x 5) = 180 points

However, the Bradford factor has been critiqued for its limited and short-sightedness in effectively measuring absenteeism, this is because it only factors total number and frequency of individual absence into account, neglecting the kind of absence.

Again, the Bradford factor is a generic process and would be inappropriate to implement on disabled employees this is because certain disabilities require higher days of absence. Employers are bound by law e.g. The British Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and 2005 (DDA) to tailor their actions to the individual circumstances of disabled employees and failure to provide these reasonable adjustments by employers may lead to civil actions or breach of DDA in employment tribunal

3.0 Managing absenteeism:

Absenteeism: A cultural problem

Every organisation is a culture, with its own norms that constitute the expected, supported and accepted ways of behaving. These norms are most times unwritten and advice people on the code of conduct. The existing culture and norms influences everyone’s perception of the business, from the CEO to the newly hired employee.

Management’s behaviour has a special impact on organisational behaviour as relates to absenteeism, this is because of its modelling influence.

Investigations have shown that absenteeism was/is directly traceable to the group norms established by leadership, the work environment and group expectations. Each group had similar illness records, it was the norms that dictated, and almost predictably, whether people showed up for work.

Absenteeism is often symptoms of larger organisational problems and can be managed as thus:

Leadership modelling and commitment: Managerial commitments and participatory culture have an important impact on attendance. E.g. in a retail company, a manager who demonstrated little commitment to attendance practices recorded one of the highest absenteeism rates in his organisation.

Work motivation and rewards: Motivation in the work place is the driving force to achieve employee job satisfaction and commitment. This motivation could be Extrinsic or Intrinsic.

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Extrinsic motivation relates to the tangible rewards e.g. Salary, security, promotion and conditions of work. While,

Intrinsic motivation relates to the psychological rewards which includes; a sense of challenge and achievement, participation and appreciation from the employer.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; the expectancies of an employee from the employer are captured as thus-

Motivated employees overcome obstacles to make it to work. The key to reducing employee absenteeism is to create a culture where employees want to come to work.

Effective Groups and Team Building: groups and teams are essential features of the work pattern of organisations. These include formal and informal groups, project and virtual teams. Effective group and team building encourages inter personal relationships, fulfils the individuals psychological need of love and belonging, encourages organisational learning and communication while reducing conflicts in the organisation. This ultimately gives employees, sense of belonging and contribution, job satisfaction and an increased love for the job which will be evidenced in attendance rate.

Recruitment and selection: Employers should recruit employees with good attendance records. This information should be included in references.

Employee orientation and training: Attendance norms should be established the first day on the job. These norms are inculcated at inductions and orientation sessions.

Performance Appraisal: this can boost employee attendance rates. Management should attach attendance rates to performance appraisals, if employees are aware that attendance would be a part of their appraisal, they would minimise unnecessary absence from work.


Organisational culture is a key factor that affects the norms and modus operandi of an organisation. Thus the leaders and manager have a great job of making effective decisions and inculcation the required culture through policies and examples.

Creating an attendance-oriented culture requires a complete corporate commitment to encourage attendance rather than manage absenteeism. This would be a significant shift because an absenteeism culture not only cost millions of pounds, but also impedes the development of human resources, reduces organisation’s competitive advantage and affects the bottom-line

My case study illustrating the causes, effects and how to manage absenteeism is evidenced in my reflective writing.

Reflective Writing:

I would always wish I would not have to return to work the following day, I would call-in sick at the slightest headache. I disliked the new branch I was posted to be a team leader.

Not having prior information or notice of my sudden inter-state transfer until a mail dropped in my mailbox, a Monday morning I just resumed from vacation, gave me the shock. I was to resume in the new branch with immediate effect. There was no communication whatever from my team leader that arrangement has been made for me to move to another state where i would lead the funds transfer team. This is a clear indication of communication gap and ineffective boss and subordinate relationship, where the team leader feels less need to have inter-personal relationship with team members. Her autocratic system of leadership in the workplace does not encourage participation, shared learning, sense of belonging and team spirit, which are among an employee’s intrinsic expectancies from the organisation/workplace

This autocratic, non-participatory system of leadership and lack of effective communication and team spirit became a culture instilled by the branch leader. This holistically affected all team members. Demonization, fear, lack of commitment, ineffective communication that often caused conflicts, and absenteeism creped in.

The feeling of betrayal, neglect and less regard filled my heart as i journeyed down the new branch. I lost motivation and commitment in the job. I lost the feeling of being part of the organisation. This was reflected in my re-occurring absenteeism and inability to deliver on deadlines

The sudden relocation was pressuring and put me under stress. This further increased my absenteeism rate from work till the point I tendered my resignation. This situation highlights the importance and implication of the supervisory and managers roles in the work place as regards motivation, team building, eradicating conflicts and commitment.

However, I feel sober, writing this coursework having realised through my research and the module learning, the cost and other implications of employee absenteeism in organisations. This also reflects why my recommendations for an effective management of employee absenteeism points to organisational culture, effective team and group building which encourages team participation and motivation, and leadership styles and modelling.

A motivational team leader or mentor would encourage effective communication, build effective teams, build a culture of attendance and commitment through a democratic or participatory system of leadership where everyone contributes and feels the sense of responsibly and love.

As a manager, having participated in this course module, I understand and appreciate my roles more. I have gained more insights on to build effective teams; manage conflicts, leadership by example and ultimately, how to manage individual differences and diversity in the workplace. Getting back into work, I would be a good leader, and inspire brilliance.

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