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The true picture of workplace absenteeism

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The true picture of workplace absenteeism

June 9, 2015

This study concludes that employers can reduce absenteeism, lost productivity and significant cost when they understand the causes of absenteeism at their organization and adopt targeted strategies to address them. The challenge is that many organizations are not tracking absence accurately and believe that simply requiring a physician’s note to verify absence is a sufficient measure to manage it.

"52% of incidental absence is not due to illness " - Tweet

Analysis of data from a representative respondent group of employees, employers and physicians determined that causes of absence are as likely to be non-illness related as they are to be illness related, particularly where certain work factors exist. Moreover, the absence is sometimes prolonged because employees feel their condition will not be accommodated in the workplace or have fears about returning. In order to address absenteeism more effectively, employers should implement an attendance reporting and tracking system, address specific work factors that affect both illness related and non-illness related absence, and ensure that expert resources are available to support the resolution of return to work barriers for employees on disability leave.

Executive Summary

Despite reports of the multi-billion-dollar impact of employee absenteeism on the Canadian economy, as well as evidence of the mitigating effect of integrated absence management strategies, employers may be unaware of the extent and causes of absence issues within their own organization. This study by the Morneau Shepell research group surveyed employers, employees and physicians to gain a better understanding of the underlying factors that predict absenteeism in order to define effective solutions.

  • The study found that slightly more than half (52%) of incidental absence is not due to illness.
  • Work-related factors were found to play a role in predicting whether the type of incidental absence is related to illness or non-illness reasons.
  • The study further found that non-illness related absence (absence that is not related to either a mental or physical health issue) is more likely where workplace stress was reported by the employee, and where the employer did not support mental wellness.

When considering prevailing solutions, the current use of medical notes was called into question by physicians themselves.

  • Several physicians indicated that there is no medical value to these notes and this use of the physician’s time is not appropriate. Only 5% of those who commented indicated that medical notes had any value in managing absenteeism.
  • For both incidental and disability absence, physician responses pointed to a need for greater workplace ownership and problem solving regarding employee absence. Employee responses regarding incidental absence suggested the same, but more from a preventative than problem-solving perspective.

Presenteeism is also noted as an issue.

  • A higher proportion of employees indicated that presenteeism is a serious issue in their workplace than did employers.
  • A lack of organizational support for mental wellness was found to predict presenteeism, in addition to non-illness related absence.

The study’s findings suggest that absence is not random. The predictors of both illness and non-illness related absence can be influenced by an employer.

Three foundational recommendations are provided in the conclusion section of this report, along with the rationale and critical features suggested for each:

  1. Implement an attendance reporting and tracking system;
  2. Ensure that expert problem-solving resources are available to resolve the return to work barriers for employees on disability leave, as well as those with chronic health issues that impact work; and,
  3. Assess and address the specific work factors in the organization that predict illness related and non-illness related absence.

Contact us today for help with your absence management strategy.

For more information on the survey, please contact: