Employee absenteeism

Employee absenteeism

Dictionary.com defines absenteeism as the habitual failure to appear, especially for work or other regular duty. Harrison and Martocchio (1998) define absenteeism as a form of withdrawal behaviour where employees avoid work situations by not showing up for work. In the past, it was believed that the main reason for absenteeism was employees being sick, however research has shown that there are other reasons why workers are absent from work. The following are some of the causes from research papers focusing on the issue.


We looked at Employee Absenteeism in Africa and the top papers were of research done in South Africa. The findings are also included.

                                                                                                                            Causes of absenteeism



Personal/Family obligations

Prater and Smith, 2011

High workload

de Reuver et al, 2019

Tight work deadlines

de Reuver et al, 2019


Truman, 2003

Entitlement mentality

Truman, 2003


Msosa, 2020


Msosa, 2020


Msosa, 2020

Transportation problems

Msosa, 2020

Lack of motivation

Mudaly and Nkosi, 2015

Poor leadership at work

Mudaly and Nkosi, 2015

Lack of resources to do the work

Mudaly and Nkosi, 2015

Low remuneration

Mudaly and Nkosi, 2015

Poor relations with co-workers

Thirulogasundaram and Sahu, 2014

Uncomfortable working environment

Thirulogasundaram and Sahu, 2014


Without flexible scheduling of work, family obligations cause workers to be absent. Prater and Smith (2011) cite that some of these obligations included caring for a children or an elderly relative. A survey carried out in the paper shows that sickness, doctors’ appointments, personal relationships, vehicle repairs and teacher conferences as some of the reasons for absenteeism. These can all be classified under personal or family obligations.

Research by Eurofund in 2015 shows that 36% of workers in Europe reported to tight work deadlines, 33% report working at high speed. High levels of workload and pressure such as these are usually causes of absenteeism (de Reuver et al, 2019).


Some of the reasons for absenteeism were leisure (Kocakulah et al, 2016). An organization called Harris Interactive interviewed 1,077 full-time adult employees and 30% of the surveyed responded that they might call in sick to enjoy a day off during summer. Another research shows that almost 2 out of 3 absent employees were not sick, only 35% were truly sick.


One in five people suffers from work-related stress (Kocakulah et al, 2016). The annual cost of depression in Canada is estimated to be $33 billion with depression accounting for higher employee absenteeism than other diseases. During the period of finding replacements of employees who left a company, understaffed employees might be overburdened with additional responsibilities which results in stress. This can affect their health and eventually results in more absenteeism (Haswell, 2003).


Thirulogasundaram and Sahu (2014) investigated the relationship between job satisfaction and absenteeism. Their results show that job satisfaction affects absenteeism. It causes employees to be motivated, and motivation influences absenteeism. A research in the mining sector in South Africa showed that work time pressure affects workers’ absence from work. This implies the amount of time spent at work affects/determines absenteeism (Keyser et al, 2020).


Effects of Absenteeism

The following table shows a summary of statistics from Statistics Canada, showing absence rates of full time employees in Canada (de Reuver et al, 2019).


employee absent

In 2007, an average of 10.2 days was lost for personal reasons by an average full time employee. In 1997, this was 7.4 days. This value keeps on increasing over time. This is the same in South Africa, where a research on teacher absenteeism showed that the rate of absenteeism has been increasing yearly (Msosa, 2020).

Absenteeism is generally higher for all jobs in developing countries (Msosa, 2020). WBNAS found a 17% absence rate in Zambia, 19% in Indonesia, 25% in India, 6% in Canada, and 26% in Brazil. This resulted in approximately $16 million spent in Ecuador and $2 billion spent in India as a result of the cost of absenteeism.


Absenteeism is costly and disrupts businesses. Some studies show that in Canada, absenteeism takes up 15 – 20 % of payroll costs, which has been reported to be over $16 billion dollars. There are more than 2.8 million work days lost every day due to employees’ absenteeism. (Truman, 2003). In 2002, this was $789 per employee in Canada. A major airline revealed that unscheduled absences were costing them nearly $1 million per day (Kaleta, 2003). Furthermore, approximately 14.3 percent of every business’ payroll comes from time off (Lombardo, 2003). In South Africa, absenteeism reduces economic growth by about R12billion annually (Ramdass, 2017).



Absenteeism causes loss of productivity and reduces company performance. It also usually results in employees quitting their jobs and employees do this as a way of distancing themselves from the workplace.


Ways to reduce absenteeism (de Reuver et al, 2019)

Opportunity enhancing high performance work systems (HPWS) practices reduce absenteeism. HPWS are a set of complementary HR practices such as rewards, performance appraisals, opportunities for career or personal development, that result in improvement of employees, skills, motivation and opportunities to contribute at work. However, improving job resources only affects employees with high work demands, and results in their reduced absenteeism. Improving job resources empowers employees and makes them resilient and therefore, they will most likely show up for work. For employees with low workloads, improving their work resources does not have an effect. Prater and Smith (2011) suggest allowing flexible work schedules in order to accommodate employees’ needs and reduce absenteeism.




de Reuver, R., Van de Voorde, K. and Kilroy, S., 2019. When do bundles of high performance work systems reduce employee absenteeism? The moderating role of workload. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, pp.1-21.


Keyser, E., Adeoluwa, A.S. and Fourie, R., 2020. Time Pressure, Life Satisfaction And Absenteeism Of Employees Of Shift Work Within The Mining Industry In South Africa. The International Journal Of Social Sciences And Humanity Studies, 12(2), pp.255-272.

Kocakulah, M.C., Kelley, A.G., Mitchell, K.M. and Ruggieri, M.P., 2016. Absenteeism problems and costs: causes, effects and cures. International Business & Economics Research Journal (IBER), 15(3), pp.89-96.


Mudaly, P. and Nkosi, Z.Z., 2015. Factors influencing nurse absenteeism in a general hospital in Durban, South Africa. Journal of nursing management, 23(5), pp.623-631.


Prater, T. and Smith, K., 2011. Underlying factors contributing to presenteeism and absenteeism. Journal of Business & Economics Research (JBER), 9(6), pp.1-14.


Ramdass, K., 2017, July. Absenteeism-A Major Inhibitor of Productivity in South Africa: A Clothing Industry Perspective. In 2017 Portland International Conference on Management of Engineering and Technology (PICMET) (pp. 1-7). IEEE.


Thirulogasundaram, V.P. and Sahu, P.C., 2014. Job satisfaction and absenteeism interface in corporate sector: a study. IOSR J Humanities Social Sci, 19(3), pp.64-68.

Tatenda Emma Matika
This article was written by Tatenda Emma a Guest at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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