Workplace dynamics have undergone a shift, with hybrid and remote work becoming not just a trend, but an expected necessity among workers. As employees grapple with the aftermath of burnout induced by the pandemic, they increasingly seek refuge in the comfort of working from home.

However, flexible work brings along its own set of challenges, making absenteeism a work productivity concern. Absenteeism is defined as poor attendance by employees at work that can pose significant challenges to company culture and can have a direct cost impact on workplace productivity. 

how to manage absenteeism at work
how to manage absenteeism at work

While absenteeism could mean disengaged employees who have little to no care about their work, it can also signify deeper workplace challenges that require management intervention.

4 reasons why employees are absent from work and how you can resolve them

From family emergencies to excessive absences with no clear reason, this article looks at the common reasons of absenteeism and strategies to improve employee satisfaction and engagement.

4 reasons why employees are absent at work
4 reasons why employees are absent at work

cause 1. work inflexibility or poor work-life balance

After the pandemic, many organisations are asking their employees to return to the office full-time. However, this trend is leaving a bad taste in their mouths, especially when more talent seeks flexible schedules for a healthy work-life balance.  

In the 2023 Employer Brand Research conducted in Malaysia, 61% of respondents reported either fully or partially working from home, marking a decline from the 69% reported in 2021. Additionally, the 2023 Workmonitor report reveals that 1 in 3 Malaysians resigned from their jobs due to a perceived lack of flexibility.

Such rigid arrangements are especially difficult for employees with caregiving responsibilities. Instead of being able to shift their work hours flexibly depending on their caregiving duties, employees may feel forced to take time off from work. 

Such rigid arrangements are especially difficult for employees with caregiving responsibilities. Instead of being able to shift their work hours flexibly depending on their caregiving duties, employees may feel forced to take time off from work. 

solution: trust your employees to do the right thing

Rather than focusing on where your employees are, companies can shift their productivity measurement from attendance to results and outcomes. As long as employees can communicate transparently with one another, meet their deadlines and proactively show positive results, they should be able to have the autonomy to work from anywhere and wherever they are most productive. 

Managers need to step in when they identify poor performance or employee disengagement, such as extended periods of not responding to time-sensitive requests or an inability to meet deadlines. During such times, managers should speak with their employees about providing support to improve their performance.

cause 2. workplace conflicts

Workplace conflicts can range from disagreement on how to move forward in a project to something as serious as distrust and a lack of respect, which could make working together almost impossible. Employees may also experience workplace conflicts if they feel overburdened by their workload but fear the consequences of speaking out.

This can have a negative impact on the employees as they find it stressful to endure another unpleasant day with their colleagues. Employee burnout caused by workplace conflicts can lead to excessive absenteeism, and other colleagues may need to step in to take over some of the work which could worsen the situation.

solution: conduct employee surveys and provide constructive feedback 

In these cases, it’s always better to nip it in the bud and address the conflict directly in a straightforward, respectful and timely manner. 

support your employees during work conflicts
support your employees during work conflicts

Anonymous employee surveys can be used to gather feedback from workers, creating a safe space for employees to share their views on how the company can improve. Use these insights to provide constructive feedback and take action to implement improvements. Companies can also provide conflict resolution training to employees and managers to improve their communication and interpersonal skills to navigate difficult conversations independently.

cause 3. workplace harassment and bullying

Unlike work conflicts, hostile work environments caused by bullying or harassment can cause emotional distress and lead to increased absenteeism. For victims, office bullying could lead to serious mental health issues such as depression and anxiety if ignored. Many times, these issues can also maniest to hurt their physical health, such as chest pains and sleep depreviation.

solution: establishing clear policies 

Employers have a basic responsibility to create a fair and equitable work environment for all employees. This involves implementing clear reporting procedures and whistleblowing policies that prioritise the well-being of the employees. Following reports, employers must also act fast to conduct thorough and impartial investigations to ensure a fair and transparent process. Most importantly, individuals who are found guilty of bullying and harassment should receive disciplinary actions that are consistent with the company’s policies and local laws.

However, such processes should be the last resort. To foster an equitable and friendly workplace, organisations need to conduct training sessions with best practices and case studies to educate how people can recognise and prevent bullying and harassment. Having employee assistance programmes can also serve as a good helpline for those who need it. 

Most importantly, encouraging teamwork, mutual respect and driving a collective commitment to a positive work environment can help promote empathy and inclusivity throughout the organisation.

cause 4. job dissatisfaction 

What your employees do at work day in and day out has a direct impact on how satisfied they feel about their careers and consequently, their commitment to the job. When employees are unclear about their responsibilities or work on monotonous tasks every day, they may feel that they are stuck with nowhere to go. This could be further exacerbated if they have not been rewarded or promoted for a long period.

At work, these employees are more likely to feel lethargic and take a longer time to respond to requests.  Without something to look forward to, employees who are unsatisfied with their work also tend to skip work regularly as they feel that their contributions do not amount to anything.

solution: invest in task automation and upskilling

While certain jobs cannot be automated yet and companies continue to rely on human resources for repetitive tasks, managers must proactively prepare for digital transformation and align the career growth paths of their employees accordingly.

career support for your employees
career support for your employees

As an integral part of this roadmap, managers should be equipped to offer career guidance and nominate employees for certifiable training programmes to enhance their ability to contribute innovatively in their daily work. This will lead to employees feeling empowered and engaged in high-value roles, increasing their likelihood to command higher salaries which would further boost their motivation.

keep up-to-date with the latest workforce insights 

Absent employees will always have a legitimate reason for why they are not working as much as they want to. It could be because of personal issues that they do not feel comfortable sharing at work or they simply feel demotivated at some point in their careers. Whatever the reason may be, it is important for the management team to understand the underlying reasons for their frequent absences and find a resolution mutually so that they feel supported by their employers. 

Our annual Workmonitor and Employer Brand Research highlights what talent expects from their employers to help HR professionals and business leaders strengthen their talent attraction and retention strategies. If you are looking for the latest talent trends and insights, reach out to our specialised recruiters to shed light on how your company measures up against your competitors from the same industry. 

Alternatively, if you are a job seeker searching for an employer who can help you, do give our career options a look and apply for a job that best suits your experience and expectations.

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