What is absenteeism and can it be measured?

Absenteeism is traditionally defined as a specific employee’s unavailability for work, when work is actually available for this specific employee. Absenteeism can fall under 3 broad categories: legal (such as public holidays), authorized (such as approved holidays) and unauthorized (also referred to as casual absence). Unauthorized absence is what most organizations strive to avoid and keep to a minimum.

“Absence measurement” is essential in order for management to compare between individual absences and departmental absences. Measuring absence is critical to identify the different patterns of employee absence and target the variables affecting it.

There are various ways to measure absenteeism, the most commonly used are the “lost time rate” formula and the “individual frequency” formula.

Lost Time Rate= (Number of Working Days Lost /Total Number of Working Days)* 100

Individual Frequency= (Number of Absent Employees/Average Number of Employees)*100

Limitations do exist when trying to measure absenteeism, whether with data collection or data correctness; thus, managers should be alert to stay on top of such limitations and handle them with care and accuracy.

Why Does Absence Occur?

Work absenteeism occurs for many reasons. Its causes are mainly either personal or workplace related. The most common ones are the following:


  1. Personal:
  • Age: Proven research shows that older employees tend to be absent less frequently than younger ones (as time stabilizes them in their jobs and the thrill of an unauthorized day off no longer tempts them.) However, once an older employee is actually absent - usually for sickness leaves - the period of absenteeism is usually longer than that of a younger employee.
  • Gender: Women tend to be absent more frequently than men usually, especially when they are responsible for the welfare of a family and have variables beyond their control to contend with.
  • Seniority: If an employee has been with a company for a long time, his/her absence level tends to become relatively lower. Fresh employees by contrast, are usually tempted to benefit from an “unauthorized” day off to relax and unwind.
  • Personal Attitude: Employees with solid work ethics value the contribution they make to their companies and rarely allow themselves to take unauthorized time off. On the other hand people with a poor work ethic don’t frequently carry the same amount of responsibility and do not feel obliged to show up to work every single day.
  1. Workplace:

  • Job Stress: When a job is stressful, employees tend to take unauthorized casual days off in order to reduce their stress levels and get rid of tension.
  • Daily Job Routine: People with repetitive and monotonous jobs tend to take advantage of a casual absence to break free from their somewhat boring daily routine and engage in something more interesting for the day.
  • Job Satisfaction: This is interrelated to daily job routine. The more an employee is dissatisfied with his overall job functions, the more he absentees himself from work.
What you can DO (as a company/manager), about it:

  • Create a concise absence policy in order to bring down the employee absenteeism level. Make sure your statement is simple and straightforward before communicating it clearly across all organizational levels.
  • Communicate the costs of absenteeism appropriately to your department heads to make them aware of it being a serious issue that can not be tolerated unless there is a valid reason.
    Measure absenteeism regularly, monitor closely, and treat all employees and management alike viz-a-viz absenteeism.
  • Take into consideration that employees could sometimes need to be absent “casually”, but commit you to digging deeper into the reasons behind their casual absence.
    Recognize regular and punctual attendance whenever possible and reward it occasionally.

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