What is Excessive Absenteeism?

Shawnee Love   •  
February 10, 2017

Many small businesses don’t think about absenteeism until it becomes a problem.  One day, a manager will notice that a particular employee seems to have called in sick “a lot”, but won’t be sure because sick days haven’t been tracked.  The manager may refer back to texts or emails and figure out how many times the employee has been absent, and even still may not be sure what is too much when it comes to absenteeism.

“Excessive” absenteeism is a term I use to describe a particular employee’s attendance record if he or she has been absent way more than the typical employee and doesn’t have valid reasons for the absences.  Excessive absenteeism implies outside of the norms, i.e., beyond what’s normal for your company and what’s normal for the population in general.  Thus, “excessive” can’t be recognized in any given day, week or even month.  Rather, I prefer to use a complete year for assessing absenteeism because then I am not having to adjust for cold and flu outbreak seasons.Man illness vector illustration

An example of excessive absenteeism I see quite often (surprisingly) is the situation where a particular employee has been sick more than the rest of the employees combined!!  An extreme example which clearly qualifies as excessive, and for small employers, would seriously affect deliverables.

But excessive absenteeism can occur in far less extreme situations, making it necessary to have a process for establishing what is “excessive”.  Here’s how:

  1. Start tracking attendance for everyone.  It can be easily done in an excel spreadsheet where each date of work is listed across the top and each employee has a row down the left. Each time someone is away, you note the reason in the appropriate cell.  Categories I use for classifying absences are:
    • Vacation (V),
    • Leave (L) which could include bereavement, medical, wcb, maternity, etc.,
    • Pre-Approved Absence (P) for situations when the employee asks and is approved in advance to attend an appointment or take care of a personal or family situation, and
    • Unplanned Absence (U) when the employee isn’t at work and hasn’t given you the chance to pre-approve.
  2. Once you have at least 6 months of attendance tracked, review and count up how many of each “U” type of absence each person has.  Sort employees from highest to lowest.
  3. Identify who falls into the top 10% (i.e., those with the most absences, and usually well beyond the company average) .

If the top 10% have more unplanned absences than the national average (which last year was approximately 9 absences per year), then you may have an excessive situation and it is time to explore what’s going on with said employee.  If even your top 10% are lower than the national average, you may still want to address it, but I wouldn’t use the term excessive even though it may be excessive for your company.