6 ways to improve staff absenteeism

Here are 6 ways to decrease absenteeism in the workplace and help to improve the health of your employees.

Bella Marsden

Fri Jan 29 2021

Staff absenteeism caused by illness has long been a challenge for businesses, and one that isn’t going anywhere. According to the Office for National Statistics, an estimated 141.4 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in the UK in 2018, the equivalent to 4.4 days per worker (1). And while sickness absence rates are decreasing, this doesn’t necessarily mean the UK workforce is healthier. Rates of chronic health conditions are on the rise, with the number of people diagnosed with diabetes more than doubling in the last twenty years (2).

The good news is there are steps organisations can take to not only decrease the number of days employees are off sick, but also improve the overall health of their staff. Here are some of the ways to improve employee absenteeism.


  1. Have a health and wellbeing plan

A health and wellbeing plan that is available for all employees is an important first step to reducing employee absenteeism. A Towers Watson survey of about 900 employers in North and South America, Europe, and Asia found that businesses with wellness initiatives had less unplanned absences, just 3.3 days, as opposed to 4 (3).

Having a programme in place to encourage health and wellness at work will help improve the health of your team, therefore mitigating health-related absences. It will also help support the mental wellbeing of your employees which in turn will lead to increased productivity and staff retention. Staff who feel their wellbeing is taken seriously by their employers will be more likely to stay in an organisation than those who don’t.


  1. Encourage healthy behaviours

In addition to your health plan, supporting healthy behaviours in the day-to-day working environment will help inspire healthy habits in your staff. Encourage your staff to take lunch breaks, get outside, exercise regularly and eat well. You can do this by creating groups and clubs within the company such as running club or healthy lunch club.

By taking steps to create a workplace culture that prioritises health and wellness, you can help decrease unhealthy habits that lead to employee absenteeism. The healthier your staff are in their everyday lives, the less likely they will have health problems in the long run.

You can find out more about supporting your staff to be healthier in our article here.


  1. Flexible working hours

A great way to reduce employee absenteeism is to allow for flexible working. This might sound counter-productive, but allowing your staff to fit in activities around their day, such as doctor’s appointments or trips to the dentist, will make them less likely to have to take a full day off work to do so.

By letting your employees work in a flexible way you are also helping them better balance their work and home lives. This will have the benefit of reducing stress and increasing productivity as your team can adapt their working hours to when they are most productive. One pilot at a Fortune 500 company found employees who were able to work flexibly reported higher levels of job satisfaction and reduce levels of burnout and psychological stress (4).


  1. Manage workplace stress

In recent years, significant research has shown the health implications of stress. In the short-term stress can lead to symptoms such as headaches, chest pain, sleep problems and stomach upset. In the long-term, stress can exacerbate existing medical conditions such as asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and mental health conditions. Chronic stress has also been linked to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses including mental disorders such as depression and anxiety (5).

Not only this, but stress can lead to decreased productivity, performance and burnout. A stressed workforce is not a happy workforce, and therefore less likely to stay in your company long-term.

Reducing employee stress should be at the top of any company health and wellbeing plan. Some of the ways to do this have already been mentioned and include encouraging staff to take breaks, allowing flexible working, ensuring staff aren’t working overly long hours and helping your employees to manage their workloads.


  1. Discourage presenteeism

Perhaps just as concerning for employers, or even more so, is staff working when they are unwell. Presenteeism is when an employee does not take sick leave, despite being ill, and is thought to be on the rise. According to a CIPD/Simplyhealth 2018 survey, presenteeism has more than tripled since 2010 (6).

There could be a number of factors that contribute to staff working through an illness including large workloads, stress, or them feeling that taking sick leave is frowned upon. There has even been a rise in cases of “leavism” where employees take their holiday leave to recover from illnesses. According to the same survey, more than two-thirds of organisations reported leavism had occurred in their organisation over the year.

In the long run, employees not taking the time off they need to recover can lead a decrease in productivity, an unhappy workforce, and an increase in sick leave down the line. Organisations should encourage staff to take time off when they are ill, and not to be seen to praise or reward staff for ‘pushing through’ an illness.


  1. Offer employee health checks

One of the best ways to reduce employee absenteeism is to offer your staff the opportunity to proactively manage their health. Medichecks’ corporate health checks allow employees to learn about their current state of health and highlight any potential issues that can be addresses with lifestyle changes before they develop into something more serious down the line.

Our range of tests are designed to measure health makers that affect work performance such as energy, stress and cognition, as well as looking at risks for common underlying conditions which can cause long term health problems such as diabetes, cholesterol and heart disease risk.

You can find out more about our employee health checks here.




(2) https://www.diabetes.org.uk/about_us/news/diabetes-prevalence-statistics#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20people%20diagnosed,of%201.9%20million%20since%201998.

(3) https://www.willistowerswatson.com/en-US

(4) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160113133342.htm

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/

(6) https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/culture/well-being/health-well-being-work