This week in HR, I am obsessed with absenteeism—because I have the flu and I’m achy, feverish, and working from home. UGH!

When I think about absenteeism, I think uh-oh, that’s about burnout and disengagement. My being sick and working from home isn’t what I mean when I think philosophically about worker absences and the costs absenteeism pose to organizations across the world.—Especially in a day and age when pandemics seem to be cycling in and out of our lives like spring / summer, fall / winter fashion trends. Frankly, I want off the Gucci succession of trending pandemics. But that’s exactly what my absence from the office is – a cost to the organization in one way or another. Luckily, I’m coherent and can work.

Absenteeism in the workplace is measured using an absenteeism rate formula. This rate is the number of absent days divided by the number of available workdays within a period. This absenteeism rate is a key HR indicator. Excessive absenteeism can indicate previously stated problems in the workforce or organizational culture.

Absenteeism is very costly. I was shocked to read the CDC’s numbers on absenteeism in the U.S. costs employers: $225.8 billion annually in productivity losses. As far as I can tell, this doesn’t capture the stress that absences inflict on colleagues, who are forced to pick up the slack, or on team dysfunction, supervisor redeployment—there are studies about all the people affected by one worker’s absence and they’re mind-blowing.

The most common causes of absenteeism cited by the CDC are depression, substance abuse, alcoholism, chronic illness, diabetes, age – the younger, the less reliably present in the workplace (believe it or not – this is just a generalization, and I work with a Gen-Z’er who is extremely reliable—awesome, actually). I wouldn’t be an HR practitioner if I didn’t reflexively think solutions or remediation.

So, when employers have absenteeism problems, I think about what’s controllable, directly influenceable, and indirectly influenceable. There are certain things employers simply can’t control, but they can influence indirectly or directly. The best way to determine the value of what you can and cannot do is in the context of the employee / employer value exchange. You can provide support structures for employees, things like an EAP or Employee Assistance Program, workplace health promotion, health screenings, alcohol and other drug management, drug testing, depression treatment… to name a few options. And all of these have direct or indirect influence over your employees’ health.

I like to think beyond the direct and indirect influence particulars to things you at least partially control. Think policy – putting the responsibility of rescheduling in the hands of employees, this creates pressure in the workplace for employees who don’t want to impose on friends. Create policies (I only recommend in certain industries) about medical verification for illnesses. Think management style – create commitment among your workforce by focusing on buy-in from workers. Where are you going as an organization? Does it include your employees? What are your employees’ goals for their own careers? Know that and then design programs and vision in ways that synergize their skills, goals, personal career path with the vision and mission of the organization.

If you use a staffing agency for high turnover or high absence positions, have a contingency arrangement with your partner that can help fill the inevitable gaps and quickly. This is not something to be taken on lightly. Training and deploy-readiness are major undertakings.

Finally, recognize that working remotely may be an advantage for your organization. I get it, not all roles are suited to remote work. Be open-minded in the deliberation process.

Call empact hr before absenteeism is a problem at your organization. The fortunate thing about most workplace challenges is that they can be opportunities for your success.


Leader, HR Advisory Services

Philip began his 12-year Human Resource career in HR Project Management and Recruiting in the legal tech sector, working for startups that were listed among Forbes Fastest Growing Companies. Philip has managed human capital operations in almost all 50 states and in parts of Europe. His experience ranges from compliance to leadership coaching. After achieving his MBA from Tulane University in 2019, Philip transitioned from in-house Director to consulting, where he focuses on helping leaders understand, document, and improve productivity and visibility through Performance Management, Mission Vision and Values integration, and Professional Development. Compliance remains a cornerstone of his strategic assistance to companies that want to scale carefully and smartly.

Philip believes that every employer can methodically create an attractive and inspiring Employer Brand and Human Capital strategy. “Every challenge can become the building block of a breakthrough opportunity through a dynamic HR strategy.