Absenteeism in the Workplace Has Tangible Costs

Absenteeism bears high costs for companies due to lost productivity and disruption to teams and project deadlines. Employees fail to show up for a multitude of reasons, some more legitimate than others. One key reason is a toxic work environment that makes coming to work depressing, onerous, even threatening.

What’s most tragic about this situation is the fact that this negative hit to productivity and morale is largely preventable, primarily by establishing science-based behavioral norms that promote pro-engagement conduct along with providing managers with new relational skills to use in their daily interactions.

Leaders need to be aware of another, related issue. The term “presenteeism” has been used to define employees who come to work and are physically present but mentally and emotionally disengaged. They might be ill or suffering from some other distraction. Regardless of the source, their lack of focus, energy, and performance is often more impactful than those who don’t show up at all. Because they are present in a physical sense, managers and coworkers assume they are also mentally present and meeting expectations, quality standards, deadlines and the like. If widespread, this can have a portentous impact on a company’s operation.

These conditions are symptomatic of employee disengagement that research shows to be pervasive in today’s workplace. Absent employees (whether they are at work and under-functioning or truly absent) might be sources of disengagement for others or exemplary individuals taking a mental health day to escape from the dysfunction they feel at work.

What Can Leaders Do to Reduce Absenteeism?

A book could be devoted to this question, but I will make a few suggestions based on our years of client work applying social neuroscience and behavioral science to the workplace.

First and foremost, we are designed to be together as a species. The fundamental ecology of people is other people. So, going to work should be one of the most natural things on the planet.

Second, one of the primary reasons we like being with others is because we have a hardwired need for validation, collaboration and recognition. When the workplace offers those conditions, normal people want to be there to receive it. Third, the brain craves consistency and predictability and when leaders at all levels in an organization can provide reliability at work, employees are more likely to show up and thrive.