Go to top of page


A certain level of employee absence is a usual feature of a healthy work environment. It is also part of a family friendly workplace. However, this does not mean that all unscheduled absences should be regarded as inevitable and accepted without question.

Unscheduled absence can be caused by a range of complex and interrelated factors which affect a person’s ability or motivation to attend work. Good management is a key driver to minimising the use of unscheduled leave for non-genuine reasons.

Employee engagement has been shown to be related to APS employee use of personal leave for personal illness or injury.1 The Australian Public Service Commission (the Commission) defines employee engagement as the relationship employees have with four elements of their work: the job they do daily; the team with whom they work; their immediate supervisor; and the agency they work for.

APS employee census results in 2012 showed that individual health concerns were the primary driver of personal leave for personal illness or injury use, however, there was a small but consistent relationship between employee engagement and the use of personal leave for personal illness or injury.2


Unscheduled absence is divided into five categories:

  • Personal leave for personal illness or injury (Sick) leave is an absence, regardless of duration, whether paid or unpaid, resulting from an employee undergoing a planned medical procedure or being too sick or injured to work. This category excludes absences related to accepted compensation cases.
  • Carer’s leave is an absence, regardless of duration, whether paid or unpaid, resulting from a member of the employee's immediate family or household, for which the employee has caring responsibilities, being sick or injured and in need of care.
  • Compensation leave is an absence resulting from personal injury or disease sustained out of, or in the course of employment (i.e. work related) and accepted by Comcare. The leave includes the total number of days or part-days and the employee is absent from work due to incapacity. It excludes time spent on rehabilitation programs, where rehabilitation takes place at the workplace in paid employment.
  • Specific types of miscellaneous/other is a workplace absence, regardless of duration, whether paid or unpaid, that is taken upon the death of a member of the employee’s immediate family or household (bereavement), or to spend time with a seriously ill, injured or dying person who is a member of the employee’s immediate family or household (compassionate), or in the event of an unexpected emergency.
  • Unauthorised absence is an absence, regardless of duration, whether paid or unpaid, that given the circumstances is not supported or approved by management.

APS context

The advice given in this guide is framed by the Public Service Act 1999 as amended3 and its subordinate legislation and other relevant legislation and policy direction. Agency Heads must put in place measures in their agency that uphold and promote the APS Values and Employment Principles.

In certain circumstances, including if the Agency Head believes an employee’s state of health has caused, or may cause, the employee to have an extended absence from work, they have the power to direct an APS employee to undergo an examination by a nominated medical practitioner for an assessment of the employee’s fitness for duty.4 Where an APS employee is unable to perform their duty because of a medical condition, their employment may be terminated on medical grounds. Generally, however, a range of options are explored before an Agency Head commences fitness for duty processes.


This guide provides a practical resource for managers. It is designed to complement agency policy and procedures by:

  • introducing the ‘Turned Up and Tuned In’ model
  • helping to identify the influences on workplace attendance
  • highlighting the organisational influences involved in motivating employees to attend
  • outlining how to recognise a potential attendance problem
  • suggesting good practice approaches and tips
  • providing guidance on how to conduct ‘difficult’ conversations.

Employees exercise their discretion to ‘turn up’ and ‘tune in’ on a daily basis. Managers play an important role in encouraging employees to attend work and to be productive while at work.

The benefits of focussing attention on unscheduled absence include:

  • employees returning to work more quickly, minimising the potential for loss of confidence and skills
  • the team pooling resources to achieve outcomes
  • increased team morale and commitment
  • enhanced perception of the team by others (this can attract skilled employees to the team)
  • a reduction in costly workplace injuries and employee turnover
  • greater investment of in employee development and career and succession management.

The Turned Up and Tuned in Model

The ‘Turned Up and Tuned In’ model5 (see diagram) identifies the influences on workplace attendance, a number of which occur at the individual level and are largely beyond the control of the organisation. These include an individual’s values, attitude and responsibilities. The model shows where organisations and managers should focus their attention to improve employees’ motivation to attend work. Organisations may influence leadership, culture, and people management policies. Managers can influence management style and practices, team culture, team size and structure, job design and workflow, and co-worker relationships. Managers may take steps to get to know their employees. Individuals also have responsibility for managing their own attendance.

1 Australian Public Service Commission, State of the Service Report 2010–11, 2011. p.32.

2 Australian Public Service Commission, State of the Service Report 2011–12, 2012, p.94.

3 See the Australian Public Service Commission website.

4 Regulation 3.2 of the Public Service Regulations 1999 as amended.

5 Draws on elements of the Steers and Rhodes model: Steers and Rhodes,‘Major influences on employee attendance: A process model’, p. 393.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018