How to professionally handle absenteeism in the workplace

Absenteeism in the workplace is known as a repeated pattern of unplanned absences. These absences can be the result of several contributing factors that affect a portion of your workforce or just one employee.

In the age of COVID outbreaks and ever-changing regulations, it is of the utmost importance that there is a clear and open dialogue with your employees around work attendance policies and any unplanned leave.

Types of absenteeism

There are a multitude of reasons why there may be absenteeism in your workplace. Understanding these individual reasons will affect the way you handle leave entitlements and further leave approvals.

Sick or accident leave

Sickness or accident leave is often unavoidable and requires a level of compassion and understanding. This is especially relevant with the current COVID-19 situation across the globe. It is important to note that frequent sick leave from an employee may suggest a larger issue need addressing

 In these circumstances it is advised that you take time to check in on the employee and have an honest conversation around their increased absence.

Mental health leave

Like sick leave, mental health or stress leave from your workforce needs to be handled with a level of compassion and understanding. Most companies utilise sick leave entitlements to manage any stress or mental health leave, although it is worth mentioning that there is a growing number of companies are offering additional mental health leave separate from sick leave entitlements. It is important to note that frequent mental health leave from an individual may point to the trigger for the leave being workplace related. If you believe this to be the case, it is advisable to offer understanding to your employee, which may include assisting with a lessoning of workload or offering more flexible working arrangements.


Disengaged in your workforce can be seen as passive or active in terms of motivation. Passive disengagement often is seen as a lack of interest in the work and lessening of out puts, this is often caused by the employees’ situation outside of the workplace, but may also indicate issues at work. Active disengagement is substantially more damaging to your workplace, this occurs when an employee takes an active interest in avoiding work, responsibilities and disrupting the workflow of those around them. It is essential that any active disengagement be addressed and directly discussed with the necessary employees as soon as possible. The importance of having workplace policies in place to address behaviours at work and expectations, is something ACC’s HR team can assist with.

Reasons behind an increase in absenteeism

Everyone will get sick from time to time and some work absences are unavoidable. These absentees aren’t concerning. Absences become an issue when there is an emerging pattern with an individual. Sometimes these will emerge as a particular day of the week rolls around or even around particular tasks.

The main causes of absenteeism in terms of sick or accident leave are linked to an employee’s psychological health and wellbeing, often attributed to stress or depression.

A Safe Work Australia study estimated that the cost of absenteeism in Australia due to this reason causes the economy six billion dollars per annum.

Disengagement in both active and passive forms can be attributed to poor workplace culture. These can include those with excessive conflict, low morale due to a lack of positive feedback, excessive demands and pressure, and insufficient support.

It is important to note that absenteeism can be a reflection on the way in which your workplace functions. It could be a sign that things aren’t right and that a problem may be left unresolved.

Steps to professionally handle absenteeism in the workplace

Outsourcing to a HR professional to review and address your workplace arrangements and operations could help to resolve further absences. Secondly, if you have a HR business model in place – it may be in need of review and we can assist with this process.

In handling leave and workplace relations professionally, it is essential to remember that your staff don’t want to be unhappy at work and usually don’t drift to absenteeism consciously.

The first big step in handling any suspected absenteeism is having an open and honest dialogue with your staff about your workplace policies. This will allow you to answer your employees questions, address any concerns, and provide transparency and trust.

Once you’ve had an open conversation with your employees, it is important to go directly to the cause and offer solutions. This may include offering a more flexible work arrangement, lightening their workload, or addressing workplace tension or bullying. Providing your employees with a happy, healthy work environment will ultimately lead to an increase in output from your workforce.

Of course, for all the employees that unconsciously drift towards absenteeism, there are those that do it intentionally. This could be a good indicator that a staff member isn’t a good fit for your organisation. It is important in this case to directly communicate your concerns to your staff member and implement strict steps for them to realign with the companies’ values or indicate that it is time for them to find a better suited workplace.

As mentioned earlier, it may also be a sign that a shift needs to take place in how your business operates. From an organisational perspective, it can be hard to see this from the top level.

This is why bringing in a HR professional to review your current systems and procedures could be beneficial.