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1: Uncovering the causes of employee absence

Did you know?

  • High absence rates can be a symptom of an underlying problem at the individual, managerial and/or organisational level
  • Absence is sometimes an ‘escape’ or ‘withdrawal’ strategy and a common stress response
  • The cause of absence is not always straightforward and often involves a combination of individual, workplace and non-work related factors
  • Individual factors that affect employees’ attendance include: illness, injury and general state of health
  • Non-work related factors, such as caring responsibilities and personal emergencies, act as barriers to attendance Workplace factors are numerous and can either positively or negatively impact on an individual’s motivation to attend. They include organisational culture, management practices and job design.

How to recognise a potential problem—Manager’s Checklist

Some indicators to look out for include:

  • an emerging absence pattern occurring
  • an ‘entitlement’ mindset
  • reasonable deadlines are not met regularly
  • an overall decline in work performance
  • conflict between team members and/or supervisors
  • a lack of enthusiasm or indifference
  • employee survey results indicating low job satisfaction or dissatisfaction with management.

Potential triggers include:

  • work areas where the roles are characterised by high demand and low control
  • seasonal or intermittent peak business periods
  • forced relocation or redeployment
  • organisational and/or leadership change
  • high turnover and recruitment of new employees
  • crises in an employee’s personal life
  • when an employee experiences physical or verbal assault, harassment or abuse
  • when an employee is being formally counselled for underperformance
  • when an employee is involved in an investigation of a suspected breach of the APS Code of Conduct.

Ask your Human Resources area for:

  • regular leave reports
  • guidance on interpreting the figures and next steps to take
  • other sources of information and trends that can shed light on causal factors.


  • Managers have little direct influence over the individual or non-work related factors. The key is to demonstrate care, concern, understanding and flexibility in your approach.
  • A manager’s greatest opportunity to make a difference is in the workplace factors. Focus your attention on areas that can influence employee motivation to attend.
  • Early intervention is important.
Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018