Categories of Absenteeism at Work

Essay 2007 9 Pages

Leadership and Human Resource Management - Miscellaneous



The term of absenteeism is generally used to describe unscheduled employee absences from the workplace. But there are two different categories. Either

- valid absenteeism: refers to employees who are absent for reasons beyond their control; like sickness and injury. In a labour relations context this means that it can not be remedied or treated by disciplinary measures.
- invalid absenteeism:refers to employees who are absent without authorization for reasons which are within their control. For instance, an employee who is on sick leave even though he/she is not sick, and it can be proven that the employee was not sick, is guilty of culpable absenteeism. In a labour relations context this means that progressive discipline can be applied.

or more elaborated

- white absenteeism: In the case of white absenteeism, the employee is obviously ill. For example if he or she has high fever or a broken leg.
- grey absenteeism: Illnesses which are psychological or psychosomatic, such as headache, stomachache or tiredness can lead to grey absenteeism because in these cases, diagnoses are hard to make.
- black absenteeism: it is spoken about black absenteeism if someone who is not ill has reported himself/herself as sick. This black variant of absenteeism is often also called illegal absenteeism. In the cases of black and grey absenteeism exists a degree of freedom to absenteeism.

Costs of Absenteeism

“Absence from work costs ca. € 70 billion annually in Germany.” says Prof. Dr. Bernd Siegemund[1].

The costs for one day of absenteeism per employee range between € 103 and € 410.

According to the 2006 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey the rate of unscheduled absenteeism in the USA climbed to its highest level since 1999, and costs some large company about $ 850,000 p. a. in direct payroll costs[2]. The absenteeism rate in 2006 was 2.5% comparred to 2.3% last year and the highest since 1999, when the rate was 2.7%.

Absenteeism takes a financial influence on a company in several different respects. The most obvious costs are sick leave benefits— in Germany for example the employer has to pay for a period of six weeks 100% of the wage while the employee is on sick leave. This costs ca. € 30 billion p.a. for the employers in Germany. But there are also significant hidden costs:

- lost productivity of the absent employee
- overtime for other employees to fill in
- decreased overall productivity of those employees
- costs of temporary help
- possible loss of business or dissatisfied customers

If absences become excessive they can have a seriously adverse impact on a business's operations and its profitability.

Reasons for absenteeism

The causes for abusive absenteeism are multiple and can have their reasons in factors from outside (for example changed moral concepts in the society) as well as in in-house circumstances. “Research shows that absenteeism of employees within an organization is influenced by many factors […]: in a meta-analysis of 318 studies, it was found that 32 factors effect the absentee rates of employees. In addition to demographic factors, such as age, education […] and sex […], qualities of the job, such as characteristics of the task, responsibility, autonomy, task variation, working conditions, salary, promotion opportunities, working hours, and even economic factors such as reorganization […] and imminent bankruptcy […], influence the absenteeism within an organization.“[3].


[1] B.A.D Gesundheitsvorsorge und Sicherheitstechnik GmbH – association of commercial and industrial workers`compensation insurance carriers

[2] 2006 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey

[3] Sanders, Hoekstra 1998


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University of Trento

Title: Categories of Absenteeism at Work