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Last updated: February 27, 2020

What Does Absenteeism Mean?

Absenteeism refers to a habitual or repeating pattern of absences by an employee from his or her workplace, often characterized by absences that are unclear to the employer.

It is commonly associated with employees who have reduced physical or psychological health, increased workplace stress, or a feeling of disengagement from the workplace.

Safeopedia Explains Absenteeism

Absenteeism is recognized as a major challenge to workplace management. It reduces workplace productivity, can result in increased stress levels in non-absent employees who must do extra duties, and may indicate a larger problem within the workplace environment. Workplace absenteeism may result in safety issues if the workplace is unable to adequately compensate for the operational disruption of absent workers and/or mitigate any effects that a disruption may cause to worker safety.

The economic cost of absenteeism tends to be very high when considered at a national level. For instance, the estimated cost of absenteeism in the United Kingdom was listed as £8.4 billion in 2017. Much of this loss has been linked to mental health and wellness issues. A 2016 UK Labour Force Survey found that 15 million working days are lost per year due to stress, anxiety, and depression, in addition to 800,000 days lost due to major mental health problems.

According to OSHA, injury and illness prevention programs that emphasize worker participation are associated with improved employee morale and lower rates of absenteeism. Furthermore, research has shown that firms that invest in workplace wellness programs tend to perform better and have lower rates of absenteeism than their peers. Conversely, workplace environments that feature unhealthy or unsafe working conditions—including those in which wellness-diminishing factors such as bullying, harassment, anxiety from work-related stress, and other forms of interpersonal psychological stressors are present—are directly linked to increased levels of worker absenteeism. Anxiety from work-related stress can even be an OSHA Recordable if the employee received treatment.

Because worker well-being (health and safety) has been consistently correlated with absenteeism, some organizations use it as an index for the effectiveness of their health, safety, and risk-management programs.


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