Knowing how to control absenteeism at work is a huge problem for UK businesses. Some reports put the figure as high as £29 million a year lost due to staff sickness, with the average number of days lost per year, per employee standing at 6.3.

Number crunching aside, there’s another cost of absenteeism that is often overlooked. The effects of sick leave are not limited to the individual who is absent. It also impacts your whole workforce and can disrupt the entire working environment.

From the cost of replacement staff to reduced productivity, businesses stand to lose out substantially if the problem is left unchecked.

Your staff are among your most valuable resources, but they’re only human and from time to time they will need to take time off work. However, when the “odd sick day” impacts your bottom line to such an extent, it pays to understand its causes so that you can start to address the problem.

Top Causes of Absenteeism

Stress is a major cause of sick leave from work, identified across all sectors and business sizes. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), it is the second biggest cause of short-term staff absence (48%) behind minor illnesses such as colds and flu (95%).

The top five short-term issues are:

  • Minor illness
  • Stress
  • Musculoskeletal issues
  • Mental ill health
  • Family/carer responsibilities

Stress is also the major cause for long-term absences, alongside acute medical conditions, for example stroke, heart attack or cancer.

  • Stress
  • Acute medical conditions
  • Mental ill health
  • Musculoskeletal injuries
  • Back pain

What’s Contributing to Workplace Absenteeism?

Working environment can have a huge impact on employee’s physical and psychological wellbeing, and, therefore, high levels of absenteeism – which means that there are ways you can actively manage and control the problem.

Inadequate facilities

It’s critical that employees are given the tools to do their job properly. A lack of infrastructure and equipment impairs productivity, impacting workers psychologically as they become frustrated and discouraged. If the issues continue, it could spell long-term absenteeism among your staff.

While businesses expect their staff to fulfil their obligations, it’s also imperative that organisations fulfil theirs, too, and provide workers with right facilities to support them in their job.

Poor leadership

The leadership model of a company has a bearing on how the workforce performs. The well-worn adage “lead by example” still holds true, and bosses should aim for this style of leadership, maintaining relationships with staff to help keep them engaged and motivated.

When leaders lose the respect of their staff, through the stick versus carrot approach for example, it can lead to staff absences with employees taking sick leave to avoid the work environment. The key to leadership is finding the balance of authoritarianism and constructive guidance.


It’s no wonder that employee engagement is a growing priority for businesses. One report suggests that the cost of disengaged staff runs to a much as £15 billion in the UK alone.

When workers are demotivated, it can result in under-performance as well as impact their safety. Disengaged workers also affect the performance of those around them too, affecting the whole work environment.

Whether there’s an underlying issue around the workplace culture or staff are demotivated due to unrealistic goals, you’ll derive huge benefits by keeping staff contented in their job. You’re also more likely to keep your staff.

Measuring Absenteeism

It’s important to be able to calculate absenteeism in order to manage it effectively. This starts by implementing a rigid system to measure absences and record staff entry and exit times. This not only helps you keep an eye on what’s happening, but also to arrange cover or the transference of duties in the case of long-term sickness – alleviating the pressure on other workers.

To find your company’s rate of absenteeism, calculate how many days per month each staff member works, and then multiply that by the number of employees you have. Be sure to make adjustments for part-time staff. You’ll be left with the net hours your workforce is expected to fulfil.

The rate of absenteeism is calculated by the net hours minus the number of absences (including early finishes). To find the percentage, divide the number of hours lost by the number of hours your team should work, and multiply the result by 100.

Let’s look at an example. Say you have 20 employees who each work a six-hour day for 20 days per month.

This is calculated as: 20 (employees) x 6 (working hours per day) x 20 (days in the month) = 2400 hours / month.

If 10 employees missed one day each in the month, then you’d calculate the lost days as hours. So, 10 x 6 = 60 hours of lost work.

The percentage of lost time is: 60/2400 x 100 = 2.5%.

Reduce healthcare related and adsenteeim costs

How to Manage Staff Sick Days

One of the key ways to manage staff sickness is through communication. You can do this is through regular staff surveys alongside more traditional individual reviews.

Encouraging staff to contribute their thoughts and ideas helps cement their loyalty to an organisation, as well as strengthening trust. Better communication also helps you monitor staff wellbeing and therefore mitigate against sickness absences.

You could also try introducing initiatives like flexible working and measures such as extra training and support for line managers, and capability assessments.

The following contribute to a happy and healthy workforce:

  • Transparent working environment
  • Recognition
  • Investment in staff quality of life
  • Promoting regular physical activity
  • Occupational health care

While most businesses will probably never achieve a “null” result when it comes to recording sickness absences, you can reduce absenteeism by putting in place practices that not only help you manage sickness rates, but which also support employee wellbeing – both inside and outside of work.

Today it’s not enough to pay a salary, employees want to have good working conditions, receive recognition and feel valued.

Managing your workforce from a human perspective, rather than looking at staff in terms of payroll numbers and spreadsheets is key to reducing absences from work and increasing productivity across the entire workforce.|PROF|HRPIO-2013-110-XHR_free_content_links|ptod_article&sfid=701w0000000uNMa

If too many of your staff are off sick, find out how Gympass can help them back to work through our gym membership scheme.