Employee absenteeism refers to employees leaving work early, coming to work late and being absent from the workplace. Absenteeism is a serious problem that often goes unnoticed. Companies have reported that they tend to under-record absenteeism, something that can carry consequences as the business is not keeping track of its risks. The way to calculate the absenteeism rate is to divide the absent days over the working days. This will give companies a better picture of the extent of the problem they are dealing with.

Causes of employee absenteeism

There are many reasons employees may not want to come to work and many of them are linked to the work culture or personal problems outside of work. Sometimes employers think employees choose not to show up because they have a bad work ethic but that is not always the case. An investigation can help reveal the root causes of absenteeism, especially if it is an issue with more than one individual. By understanding the underlying problem, the business will be able to come up with effective strategies that address the main motivator, rather than just absenteeism. The investigation may show that employees are absent because of the following:

  • Mental health problems
  • Harassment and bullying
  • Lack of collaboration
  • Personal issues
  • Working conditions

Mental health problems

Due to various factors, employee mental health has deteriorated the last couple of years. A recent survey showed that 92.6% of employees experienced mental health problems that also affected their work. What’s more worrying is that 31.7% reported that their employers had no plans to provide mental health training, with many employees stating their employers did not support mental health. Employees being absent due to mental health is sometimes necessary, especially if they feel overwhelmed. Taking time off to take care of themselves is necessary for them to come back stronger and prioritise themselves over work. 

Harassment or bullying

There are some instances where employees are absent due to being harassed or discriminated against in the workplace. It might make them feel unwelcome and alienated, causing them to miss work to protect themselves. Being bullied at work can make it difficult to show up as employees associate it with an unhappy place. 

Lack of collaboration

The employee may be struggling to work with their manager, they might get into numerous arguments about work projects with their team or not get along with their colleagues. If employee personalities keep clashing, employees may not want to work with their manager or their team as they do not feel heard, appreciated or valued. They might feel wronged and may lose the feeling of belonging in the workplace. 

Personal issues

The employee may be dealing with personal issues or circumstances such as taking care of a loved one. they might also have an injury or an illness, so they need time off to rest and recover. The company should encourage employees to take time off when they are sick and report any health and safety incidents in the workplace. Failure to give time off when an employee is asking for sick leave can negatively impact a business. An employee in Quebec requested medical leave which was followed by her being unfairly dismissed. The employer had to pay over $12,000 CAD as compensation. 

Working conditions

Working conditions can encourage employees to achieve their goals or lead them to burnout. Tight deadlines, last-minute tasks and overtime can cause employees to feel overworked and overwhelmed, which will reduce their productivity and cause them to take time off regularly to recover from the increased responsibilities. If the investigation shows that the working conditions are affecting one or more employees, then the business needs to take a step back and ask the employee(s) what is the best time to resolve the issue. This could mean hiring extra people or giving them work that applies to their role.


Investigate absenteeism

 In larger companies, it is necessary to investigate employee absenteeism to understand the reason the employee is not showing up at work. It can be hard to control all departments and ensure that everyone is recording and keeping track of absences accurately. The business should

  • Gather evidence (keep track of absences)
  • Talk with the employee and other stakeholders
  • Document every step
  • Take action

Gather evidence

Gathering evidence, in this case, is extremely important as it will highlight whether an employee is absent from the workplace without notifying the employer or providing a reason. Is the employee genuinely missing work or are they on maternity leave or injured? In small companies, this can be easy to keep track of but larger companies can struggle. The investigator should look at any records they can find; incident forms, performance reviews and any potential complaints made by the employee are just some examples. 

Talk with the employee and other stakeholders

If the employee is at work, the investigator or their manager should approach them and ask to speak to them. This process can start with the manager, the investigator or both. They can make the decision together as the issue could be caused by management. There are also cases where the employee would rather speak to their manager about personal issues. The conversation should take space in a private place where no interruptions will occur. The investigator and manager should ask:

  • How many days have you been absent from work?
  • Is there a reason for the absences?
  • Do you notify the company when you are absent?
  • Do you ensure your workload is taken care of?
  • Are you happy with your current work and tasks?

These questions will enable the investigator to determine what is really happening. Not all absences are unexcused. As mentioned, there are many issues that could be going on. Beyond finding the reasoning for the absences, these questions will allow the manager to understand how responsible the employee has been when they are off from work; if they find people to take over or take care of tasks before they go away. 

After talking with the employee about their absenteeism, the manager and investigator should move to other stakeholders, such as their colleagues. They might be able to confirm the reasons the employee provided or give further information on the matter. 

Document every step

The investigation process will require numerous conversations and a lot of facts to be collected. The company should document every action they take to ensure that they have fair reasoning behind their decisions and they cover themselves legally. By recording everything, investigators will also have an easier time when they write the investigative report. 

Another advantage of documentation is that no steps are missed. When organisations do not keep track of the actions they take, some steps may be forgotten or they might duplicate activities as well. 

Take action

After the investigation has ended, the investigator should explain their findings and conclusions in the investigative report. This will allow the business to take action to resolve the root cause of the problem. 

Work culture: If the issue was found to be work culture, then this is the hardest problem for businesses to approach. This is because it can take a long amount of time to fix work culture and make employees feel comfortable and welcomed as well as appreciated. Change needs to come from top management to lower as leaders need to lead by example. 

Harassment or bullying: If the employee is being harassed or bullied, then the scope of the investigation may need to be modified slightly or another investigation will need to take place. The investigator should also try to identify whether more individuals are affected based on their absenteeism rates. Once everyone has been identified, the company can then start an investigation into harassment to develop better-targeted solutions. 

Manager issue: If the reason for absenteeism is the manager of the employee(s), then a meeting needs to be organised with both parties to discuss strategies going forward. The manager may need to receive further training or be reassigned. If they engaged in bullying or discrimination as discussed above, there are also scenarios where a manager needs to be dismissed. The employees should then receive a written warning due to their absenteeism and receive training in complaint reporting to ensure that a similar incident does not go unnoticed again. 

Culpable absenteeism: Disciplinary action needs to follow if absenteeism was found to be due to poor work ethic. The company should schedule a disciplinary meeting with the employee and discuss the consequences for their actions. Some options that the business has are:

  • Training
  • Suspension
  • Dismissal

Any action they business deems as appropriate needs to be recorded in the employee’s file, as well as the reasoning for that decision. 

Important to note

Employee absenteeism can happen for a number of reasons. Sometimes investigations are needed to uncover the best ways to resolve the situation.

Our clients trust Polonious to assist with investigating various issues such as absenteeism, fraud, theft and non-compliance. Our system helps investigators conduct a more efficient process that will save time and money for employers. We prioritise automation to avoid any manual work and make it easier for employees to complete their tasks. Are you looking to conduct an investigation with faster turnaround times? Reach out!