A Decade of Absenteeism: Understanding the Reasoning Behind the 10-Year High

Guide to reduce absenteeism at workplace explained by Papershift scaled

According to recent reports, absenteeism rates among staff members have skyrocketed, hitting a 10-year high. This trend has caused concern among businesses and organisations, who are now scrambling for solutions. Here at Leave Dates, we aim to delve deeper into the issue and offer practical and effective advice. We firmly believe that identifying the underlying causes of the rise can assist in combatting it.

Table of contents

The effect on business

A high absence rate has a negative impact on businesses. If an employee fails to turn up to work, productivity takes a hit and operations become less efficient. This can cause potential delays in the delivery of projects. In turn, this leads to a loss of revenue and even causes damage to a brand's reputation. Not to mention the additional cost and inconvenience of getting someone in to cover at short notice.

Stress is the highest cause of workplace absenteeism

In a recent study, 76% of respondents reported their absenteeism came down to stress. The pressure of meeting targets and working long hours can leave staff skipping breaks, depriving them of the necessary time to unwind and relax. When stress levels increase, this messes with both mental and physical health, leading to the need for time off sick. Although many employees fear that taking days off due to stress is deemed unacceptable or may reflect poorly on their abilities.

There are measures that employers should be putting in place for their team members. Encourage breaks to be taken, offer hybrid and flexible working where possible, and provide confidential counselling services or employee assistance programmes (EAP).

Cold and flu symptoms

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the number of people being absent from work due to cold or flu symptoms has seen a significant surge. This is quite possibly down to the increased awareness of spreading illnesses around the workplace. In fact, some employees actually welcome their colleagues taking a day off when feeling under the weather.

The cost-of-living crisis

The rise in living costs has definitely had an impact on absenteeism. Many employees are struggling to make ends meet. This is leading to a rise in mental health issues and causing more sick days. People are also working multiple jobs just to make enough money for necessities, which is leading to burnout and exhaustion.

Mental health

Mental health is an undeniable contributor. The stresses of modern-day living as well as some of those points mentioned above, are taking a toll on mental wellbeing. Simply put, many people are increasingly struggling with anxiety and depression. Beyond all the emotional aspects, these conditions often cause physical symptoms that render people unable to work. Globally an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year due to mental health-related absence.

How can businesses and organisations make change?

There are many policies and procedures which can be implemented by employers to decrease absenteeism:

  • Emphasise employee engagement by recognising those doing a good job. This can create a much more positive work environment.
  • Increase holidays/annual leave. There’s also the unlimited holiday option you can investigate. It’s far easier to have a pre-approved plan for holidays than an unexpected absence.
  • Encourage those who haven’t used their annual leave allowance to take time off. Only one-third of UK workers will use their full entitlement.
  • Offer flexible working options where possible, like job-sharing or hybrid working. This can significantly reduce burnout.
  • Introduce a set number of wellbeing days e.g., once per quarter. These are additional to annual leave and allow team members to call in when they can’t perform at their best. It also has zero effect on their pay.
  • Have regular 1-2-1 meetings to give people a chance to express how they’re feeling.
  • Provide private health insurance as a perk. Making medical appointments more efficient reduces the amount of time an employee is off and waiting to be seen.


The rise in workplace absenteeism is a trend that’s affecting everything from profitability to productivity. Based on research, the causes of this increase vary widely from mental health issues to burnout. While some companies are already implementing strategies to combat this, there’s a need for sustained effort from both employees and staff members.

Track time off

There should be policies put into place that support employee wellbeing, allow for flexible working and prioritise work-life balance. These all create a much more positive workplace. Encourage those who haven’t used their full allowance to take some days off.

By monitoring absenteeism more closely and getting to the underlying cause, the issue can be reduced before it progresses.

Hannah Walters Headshot


My 10 years of experience have enabled me to write for various industries, gaining significant knowledge. When I'm not writing, you'll find me either with my head in a book, drinking wine, or walking my miniature dachshund.