Absenteeism – Definition

Cite this article as:"Absenteeism – Definition," in The Business Professor, updated July 27, 2019, last accessed October 22, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/lesson/absenteeism-definition/.


Absenteeism Definition

Absenteeism refers to a habitual pattern of absence from a job without a proper acceptable reason. It is non-presence of an employee at their workplace, beyond the normal vacations and leaves for valid reasons. Absenteeism may indicate to job dissatisfaction and poor work environment or the workers’ lack of commitment to their job. Chronic medical condition, personal issues, family problems, etc. may also lead to absenteeism. Excessive absenteeism may impact the operation of the company adversely and as a result, the company may want to terminate the employee to protect the interests of the company. However, in the United States, some reasons of non-presence in the workplace are legally protected, that means if an employee fails to be present at their workplace due to any of these reasons, the company cannot terminate them on that ground.

A Little More on What is Absenteeism

Employees are expected to take some time off from work occasionally for some valid reasons like medical leave, jury duty, military work or bereavement. Employees need to furnish proof of leave (a doctor’s note, jury notice, obituary, etc.) for the approval of such leaves. Companies generally approve some paid leave to their employees on such occasions.

Employers are obligated by law to approve leaves under the conditions mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Employers are also obligated to allow their employees to perform jury duty, but those may not be paid leaves in all states.

If an employee misses work repeatedly and unexpectedly beyond these legitimate leaves, that is considered as chronic absenteeism. It is the absence beyond the occasional excused absence. It may be considered as the violation of the employee’s contract and may lead to termination.

Companies may have to bear financial loss due to their employee’s chronic absenteeism. Companies cannot plan for these unexpected absences, as a result, either they must hire last-minute temporary workers or pay overtime to the regular employees. However, companies generally maintain a higher staffing level regularly in anticipation of absences, but that may not be enough to cover the labor loss due to chronic absenteeism.

The most common cause of absenteeism, cited by the workers is a medical condition. The U.S. Department of Labor data shows the companies lose approximately 2.8 million workdays a year because of employee illnesses and injuries. Some of the other reasons for absenteeism include:

Overwork: Employees who work for long hours in high-stake roles may take some time off from work due to mental and physical stress. It is more likely to be absent from work if an employee feels that his/her contribution to the company is unappreciated or unnoticed.

Workplace harassment: The employees who are bullied by fellow workers or harassed by the management on a regular basis, are more likely to miss the work to avoid the harassment.

Mental health issues: Employees struggling with mental health issues often miss work due to their inability to cope up in the office environment. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is the main cause of absenteeism in the United States.

Lack of motivation: Employees often ditch work if they are not passionate about the work they are obligated to do. Their lack of motivation leads to chronic absenteeism.

Family obligations: Employees often miss their work due to several family issues which they must take care of. This may also include childcare or elder care.

If an employer witnesses a rise of absenteeism in their company, they must take some actions to prevent it. These actions may include:

Improving the working environment: A healthy working environment is a key to curb the absenteeism. The workers must feel safe and encouraged to come to the workplace. The management should ensure that each employee feels appreciated for their contribution and no one is harassed or bullied inside the workplace.

Formulating a well-defined leave policy: The leave policy of the company should be well defined, and it should be communicated clearly to all employees. There shouldn’t be any gray area regarding the taking days off.

Individual Performance review: The management should facilitate one to one dialogue between the employees and their supervisor. The workers should be given the space to openly discuss their problems.

Childcare center: A company may want to open a childcare center where the employees can leave their children during working hours. That will ensure that the employees do not have to depend on any babysitter.

Sensitization on mental health: People with mental health issues often look for a safe working space. A company must take care that all its employees are adequately sensitized on the mental health issues. Workshops can be organized to address this issue.

Incentive Plans: Companies may introduce incentive plans to boost the morale of the employees and encourage them to do better in the workplace.

Reference for “Absenteeism”

Research article on “Absenteeism”

Organizational, work, and personal factors in employee turnover and absenteeism., Porter, L. W., & Steers, R. M. (1973). Organizational, work, and personal factors in employee turnover and absenteeism. Psychological bulletin, 80(2), 151. This article examines the factors that influence employee turnover and absenteeism including work, organizational factors, and personal influences. The authors review research conducted in the past 10 to 12 years regarding factors that relate to turnover and absenteeism of employees. In a general level, the authors suggest that the overall job satisfaction is consistent and inversely related to turnover. In an attempt to elaborate the concept of job satisfaction, several factors at the workplace were reviewed as they relate to the withdrawal behavior of employees. The authors utilized 4 categories of factors including level in the organization, immediate working environment factors, job-related factors, and personal factors. Different variables were identified to relate to each of the 4 categories and have fairly consistent relationship to at least one form of withdrawal.

How changes in job demands and resources predict burnout, work engagement, and sickness absenteeism, Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B., & Van Rhenen, W. (2009). How changes in job demands and resources predict burnout, work engagement, and sickness absenteeism. Journal of Organizational Behavior: The International Journal of Industrial, Occupational and Organizational Psychology and Behavior, 30(7), 893-917. This investigates how changes in job demands and resources influence work burnout, engagement, and absenteeism. The authors conduct a longitudinal survey involving 201 telecom managers. The findings support the Job Demands-Resources model which postulates that health impairment process is correlated with a motivational process. Supporting the hypotheses, the structural equation modeling analyses found that: (1) increase in job demand and decrease in job resources, (2) increase in job resources predict work engagement, and (3) burnout and engagement predict registered sickness duration. The authors also find a positive gain spiral to initial work engagement which predicts an increase in job resources.

Conceptualizing how job involvement and organizational commitment affect turnover and absenteeism, Blau, G. J., & Boal, K. B. (1987). Conceptualizing how job involvement and organizational commitment affect turnover and absenteeism. Academy of management review, 12(2), 288-300. This paper conceptualizes how organizational commitment and job involvement impacts employee turnover and absenteeism. The author explores the key concepts of organization’s commitment towards employee satisfaction and how job involvement influences the way employees perceive the organization. The authors assert that there is always low turnover rates and absenteeism in cases where the organization has high commitment towards meeting the needs of employees.

Organizational commitment, turnover and absenteeism: An examination of direct and interaction effects, Somers, M. J. (1995). Organizational commitment, turnover and absenteeism: An examination of direct and interaction effects. Journal of organizational Behavior, 16(1), 49-58. The study examines the direct and interaction effects of organizational commitment, turnover, and absenteeism. The authors utilized a three component model of organizational commitment to understand job withdrawal intentions, turnover, and absenteeism. The most consistent predictor found by the study was affective commitment, the only variable that was related to absenteeism and turnover. On the contrary, normative commitment was found to have a direct link with withdrawal intentions, but no direct effects for continuance commitment. However, the study also showed that continuance commitment interacts with effective commitment in the case of job withdrawal and absenteeism predictions. The interactionism identified was such that high sunk costs affect the relationship between affective commitment and outcome variables.

Employee absenteeism: A review of the literature, Muchinsky, P. M. (1977). Employee absenteeism: A review of the literature. Journal of vocational behavior, 10(3), 316-340. This study conducts a qualitative review of past literature to understand the concept of absenteeism as a form of withdrawal behavior among employees. The authors reviewed the relationship between absenteeism and personal, attitudinal, and organizational variables by examining the psychometric properties of absence measures. Studies that examine the correlation between absenteeism and turnover were also examined as well as those addressing the programmatic efforts to reduce employee absenteeism. The authors put their emphasis on indices used by investigators to measure absenteeism as well as problems that have been raised by multiple literature on absenteeism.

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