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Demystifying Absenteeism

Does any of this sound familiar?

  • They’ve had more days off work than days at work!

  • This is the third time their Grandma passed away this year?!?

  • They’re always getting hurt on the weekend and keep going on ACC.

  • I’m sick of people always being sick.

How about these questions? Ever find yourself asking these??

  • Can I fire someone for being absent from work?

  • When can I give someone a warning for absenteeism?

  • Is it okay to ask someone for more information about being sick?

  • How do I manage someone who is absent a lot but always has a good reason?

Almost all business owners and people leaders I’ve come across find themselves frustrated when it comes to people taking time off work.

We get it – absenteeism costs. Let’s explore here how we can get on top of things.

First things first…

Before we jump into it, let's provide a bit of background.

We’ve worked in organisations with physically demanding, repetitive, low-skilled roles with unbelievably low absenteeism. I’ve also experienced workplaces that have had high absenteeism despite being predominantly highly-skilled, professional environments.

We've spent hours researching ways to manage absenteeism.

What we've learned is that absenteeism is manageable despite popular belief.


Here’s a few bits of advice to start with…

Measure & Set Expectations. Be consistent and transparent. If you follow up on one person but not another, that’s just not fair. Creating regular, standard reporting that measures exactly how much time off people are taking then managing against an agreed standard is the best way to be transparent and fair. E.g. we will meet with staff who have more than 15 days unplanned absences per year because we care about our people being fit and motivated to come to work.

Talk. This might seem obvious but it’s often overlooked. Have you asked them why they’ve got such high absenteeism – what’s really going on? Remember to respect their privacy though. You can remind them that they do not have to share anything they aren’t comfortable sharing but if you don’t know what’s going on, you can’t help. Chances are, there’s more going on than you know so rather than guess, ask!

Explore Options With Them. Ask the employee for ideas on what can be done to improve their participation at work. Ask other employees what they think would help encourage people to attend work. You might be surprised at what they suggest. Avoid “telling” the employee that they need to come to work more but instead, focus on WHY their participation is important and what impact their absences is having on the business, team and their pocket!

Check-in. Once you’ve had the initial talk, follow up at a later date to check how things are going. If things aren’t on track – let them know. If things are improving – also let them know!

Think About Motivators & Incentives. What can you do as a business, team, or leader to recognise good participation/attendance? Development opportunities, attendance bonuses, additional planned time off for unplanned leave not used, conversion of unused sick leave to something else, team lunch shout… The options are endless if you put your mind to it.

What makes coming to work the preferred option? Why do people want to come to work? Why wouldn’t they? You might not like to ask because you’re afraid of the answer. If that’s the case, I’d argue it is probably exactly the right question to ask.


Taking excessive time off work alone is not usually misconduct; it is normally considered a performance issue.

Dishing out warnings or dismissing an employee without understanding this is a common mistake that can be costly.

Check out this article on Performance vs Misconduct to read/learn more.


The cost of not managing absenteeism is high. I’m not just talking about stress. Time, resources, quality, and staff morale all suffer if things are left unchecked.

Additionally, it can cost you even more if it’s managed poorly. You risk all the above, plus potential PG’s which can cost thousands of dollars.

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