There are any number of reasons why employees need to take a day off: sickness, injury, mental health issues, burnout, personal misfortune, lack of childcare...the list goes on.
Absenteeism is a fact of life that affects businesses of all sizes and across all industries. However, it is a costly one with a 2020 study showing that mental health related absenteeism alone cost businesses in the UK a staggering £14 billion.
It would be a naïve business that didn’t expect any employee ever to call in sick or need to take time off, but it can also be a good idea to understand, acknowledge and plan for all of the reasons why your employees might need to be absent from the office.
Here we will take a look at some of the most commonplace reasons why your employees could be missing work, be it for a day or for considerably longer.
Reasons why your employees are taking time off work
Mental health issues
Obviously the pandemic has created its own tangled web of mental health issues for many people, but aside from that, stress and anxiety are also instrumental in leading employees to need to take time off work. Whether the stress is work related or the result of outside issues, it can have a very real knock on effect on someone's ability to perform their job well.
The amount of people suffering from anxiety has increased exponentially in the last decade or so, with factors as varied as social media, climate change, Brexit and austerity measures being cited as reasons. Anxiety can manifest itself in the form of sleeping disorders and panic attacks, both of which are not conducive to a productive and healthy mindset at work.
So much more than ‘feeling a bit down in the dumps’ depression can dog someone for years, or can, mercifully, be more temporary and caused by sad, traumatic, or life-altering events, such as a death.
The death of a close family member or other significant person may result in an employee, quite rightfully, making use of their bereavement leave.
These could range from anything that is short term and relatively minor such as a stomach bug, coughs and colds, period pains, migraines or an infection to more serious, long term illnesses that demand frequent treatment such as cancer or lung, liver or heart disease, or conditions such as asthma or epilepsy.
Thankfully most injuries are temporary however recovery times can vary depending on the injury in question. The most common reasons for needing time off work due to injury are because of muscle strains and broken bones - often caused by an accident, by playing sport or even through RSI - repetitive strain injury, which is often the result of office-based work.
Before maternity leave starts, a pregnant employee may need time off for check-ups, vomiting and morning sickness, and complications with the pregnancy.
Unavoidable life problems
Oh yes, we’ve all been there. When life conspires against us to get in the way of what we need to do by suddenly and unexpectedly going pear shaped!
The heating packs up, the boiler breaks down, a pipe has burst, there’s a flood, fire, or break-in. Heavy winds cause a tree to flatten the car or crash through a window. It sounds dramatic but it happens.
Child (or pet!) problems
A child is sick and can’t go to school - and the childminder is sick too. The nursery or kindergarten has had to close due to unforeseen circumstances. The person who was supposed to be doing the school run suddenly can’t. A pet falls ill and needs to be rushed to the vet.
Ah yes. Let’s not pretend that we’ve either all been there...or we’ve been sorely tempted to. Those days when you just can’t face getting out of bed due to no reason you can put your finger on. A slight runny nose that you know isn’t really all that bad. And yes, of course, the hangover.
The reasons for employee absenteeism are wide and varied. Most are completely genuine and understandable. A couple are not. But what can you do as an organization to try and reduce the number of days your people are away from their desks?
Both for the good of their health and for the good of the company and your clients.
How can your company reduce absenteeism?
The crux of the matter is, you need to create a company culture that is compassionate, transparent, honest, and respectful towards its people. We’ve written before about how to build a company culture that motivates its staff which is a good place to start if you’re looking for ideas.
Crucially, you need to make sure that, as the HR Department, your organization supports its people from the top down.
And we know, that can’t stop someone from breaking an ankle playing Sunday League football or from having an asthma attack, but what it will do is to help people be happier and more engaged in the workplace - which will in turn make them less likely to suffer from burnout, or workplace related stress and anxiety.
Or want to pull a sickie!
Actionable ways to help cut absenteeism
There are also more tangible things you can do to help maintain a better employee attendance rate.
For example, free healthy snacks and drinks on offer at the office, duvet days, a pleasant working environment with natural lighting, plants and good quality furniture, employee recognition schemes, free or subsidized gym memberships, a decent healthcare scheme/insurance, and a guarantee that mental health issues will be taken seriously by offering help if needed.
Reasons why your employees are taking time off work: conclusion
When it comes to the crunch, your HR Department needs to have created a fair and reasonable policy for employee absence.
On the one hand, you don’t want employees to be taking advantage of you (and, though thankfully rare, there will always be those kinds of people…), but on the other hand, you need your company’s employees to know that you have their backs when illness, injury or disaster strikes.
The knock on effect will be happier and healthier employees, less absenteeism, greater productivity, and an all-round nicer place to work - for everybody.