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What are the reasons for staff absence?

There are a variety of reasons for staff absence, including physical and mental health problems, disability, job design, level of motivation, equipment and comfort, parenting responsibilities, and bullying & harassment.

Physical Health

Among the reasons for staff absence, physical health is paramount. A major physical problem that results in absences is back problems – and other musculoskeletal conditions as well.   Additional reasons include minor illness such as flu and colds, and acute medical conditions such as asthma.  Stress leads to both physical and mental health related absences.  Stress may manifest physically in the form of heart disease, certain types of cancer, rashes, and migraines, among others.

Mental Health

The number one cause of long term sickness absence is stress, both for manual and non-manual workers.  This is the root cause of many mental health disorders including depression and anxiety.

Though treatable, not all employees are comfortable seeking treatment due to the existing stigma in society that pairs mental illness with ‘weakness.’  One of the ways this is changing is the development of company mental health awareness initiatives and policies.


The definition of disability is when a physical or mental condition substantially impairs a person’s senses, movements or everyday activities.  Disability can contribute to absences.  However is it against the law to discriminate against people with disabilities in the workplace.  Specifically, the Equal Opportunities Act 2010 prevents direct and indirect discrimination in the workplace, education sphere or larger society on the basis of disability, gender, marriage and civil partnership, age, race, sexuality, religion, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity.

An individual cannot legally be hired or fired due to a disability.  Specific policies on disability should be provided to each employee.  We will later discuss how people with disabilities can be supported within the workplace.

Job Design

Certain practices within a job’s design have been shown to reduce the number of absences, including communicating policies and consequences regarding poor attendance, consistency in applying attendance policies (which is only possible with clear records of attendance accessible to staff and employees alike), flexible scheduling and incentive programmes that are tied to both work performance and attendance rates.   Breaking up repetition, and well placed breaks also have been shown to reduce the number of employee absences.

Motivation & Team Morale

Team morale is also high among reasons for staff absence, although for obvious reasons it is rarely cited as such.  This is an important issue for companies to be aware of.  Some companies introduce team games and social events into their company culture for this reason.  Some also initiate attendance and performance competitions among staff.

Equipment & Comfort

It stands to reason that a comfortable work environment will promote better attendance.  For this reason companies have invested in ergonomics & RSI, office temperature and air conditioning as well as air purifying systems.  Comfort is related to the amount of time employees spend in the workplace- the less comfortable staff are, the less they attend work.  This correlation is known as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).

Parenting Responsibilities

Parenting responsibilities are another significant cause of workplace absences.  Family responsibilities can also extend to caring for a spouse, parent or other dependent family member.  Flexible schedules can help to alleviate the increase in absences due to parent and family responsibilities.

Bullying & Harassment

Bullying and harassment increase workplace absences.  For this reason, it’s important for companies to have a clear, consistent and regularly enforced anti bullying and harassment policy.  Many companies have recently taken a zero tolerance policy on bullying and harassment in an effort to alleviate the number of absences due to these unhealthy and often illegal workplace behaviours.

Unauthorised Absence

Like other instances mentioned above, it is imperative to have a clear policy on unauthorised absence.  The unpredictability of this type of absence can make it extremely detrimental to companies, especially when it exists on a larger scale.

These reasons for staff absence can all be dealt with most efficiently by having a clear system of attendance monitoring.  Only when workers and employers have a simple, accessible way to view attendance rates, can they begin to identify and address patterns among their staff.

For more information on our automated holiday and absence scheduler, please contact MTIS.