The most common causes of workplace absenteeism

We all need to take a day off occasionally. No matter how healthy or lucky we are, life can throw any number of reasons at us that prevent us from working.

Most businesses expect some level of absence in their workforce, but don’t always pause to consider, and prepare for, all the eventualities. Taking stock of all the reasons workers can be absent is a wise move for business planning.

There are plenty of causes of absenteeism at work - let’s have a look at what they are.

What are the most common causes of absenteeism in the workplace?

Here are the most common reasons people might miss work, over both the short and long term.

Physical Health

Long term medical conditions - these could be illnesses like heart disease, cancer or other ailments that require multiple visits to doctors and hospitals. They can also include recurring ailments like asthma or severe allergies.

Short term illnesses - colds, fevers, infections, stomach upsets, menstrual problems and migraines.

Injuries - temporary incapacitations like broken bones or sports injuries.

Musculoskeletal problems - repetitive strain injury is a common one that prevents people typing on computer keyboards. Back pain is so common it almost warrants its own category. (It can be accommodated to some extent in the office, with changes to seating arrangements, but can be so severe as to stop people working.)

Pregnancy-related absence - for health issues or complications that don't make up part of regular maternity leave.

Mental health

Stress - occupational stress that's caused by workplace pressures, this can have both psychological and physical effects. It can also affect quality of sleep and the immune system, leading to further maladies that require absence from work.

Anxiety - this is similar to stress but can be caused by issues outside of work, and can result in panic attacks, lack of sleep, and other issues.

Depression - related to the above, this can be short-term (due to negative life events) or persistent over the span of years. People can be signed off work for weeks or months at a time if a doctor diagnoses them with severe depression.

Addiction issues - compulsive use of alcohol and other drugs can cause health issues that need medical / psychiatric intervention.

Life absences

Childcare problems - when a child is ill or having other trouble at school, or when childcare can't be arranged, etc.

Bereavement or compassionate leave - when a close relative has passed away, or is seriously ill, they might take bereavement leave.

Other life events and responsibilities - this could involve home emergencies for example, like a boiler breaking down in the winter, a burglary or a flood. It could also include jury duty (although this is rare), emergency pet care or things that don't fit into other categories. For example, if someone's had a difficult relationship breakup, or they've been witness to a crime, they might be too upset to work.

Unauthorised absence

‘Pulling a sickie’ or having an unauthorised ‘duvet day’ - opting to take a day off just because it’s desired. This is almost always claimed as something else, so is hard to track in most cases.

What can companies do to prevent absence?

Well, it’s a complicated answer; we might have to leave that for another article. But it starts at the top, by building a company culture that respects staff wellbeing and their lives outside work.

When people are treated with respect and are supported by the company they work for, they’ll be less likely to suffer from ill health or want to skip work in the first place.

Benefits like complementary gym memberships and fitness programmes, mental health support (access to counsellors or time off to seek mental health help), healthy work environments (good light, air, furniture and layout that takes everyone’s needs into account) and generous healthcare schemes (ie. insurance) can all contribute greatly to this sort of culture.

Having a well thought-out absence policy is crucial for staff to know where they stand - here's a guide on how to make one. As well as this, a responsible management style that doesn’t encourage overwork, and instead encourages staff to go home on time and take all their annual leave allowance, will have similar results.

Sure, there are the occasional misbehavers who take advantage of such policies, but these are rare. The overall effect on team cohesion, productivity and attendance will undoubtedly be positive.