Types of Absenteeism: Understanding the Different Forms and Their Impact on Your Business

Dec 3, 2021

Taking breaks from work is healthy and necessary. Taking time off without prior notice one too many times or for way too long, though, can be a red flag.

Investopedia defines absenteeism as:

an employee's habitual absence from work—usually intentional and without any good reason.

It's a huge employee-related issue that can pick away at an organisation's success and wear down the team's morale. It goes beyond taking time off for sickness, vacation, time spent with family, and so on. When an employee doesn't show up at work for extended periods of time, usually without reason or prior notice,

It's easier to understand the types of absenteeism in groups. These groups are:

  1. Planned and approved (the best kind, right?)

  2. Unplanned but approved (happens to the best of us!)

  3. Unplanned and unapproved (excusable once or twice, but more than that...?

That's a neat segue into the meat of this article, which answers this question:

What are the different types of absenteeism in the workplace?

From taking a much-needed holiday to going completely AWOL, here are the types of absenteeism you need to look for in your workplace.


This is planned and approved absence of a certain number of days in a year, usually taken from an employee's annual leave balance. Like it says on the tin, this type of absenteeism is usually spent relaxing, travelling or indulging in personal interests.

There's usually a minimum entitlement for this that's required by law. Many organisations let employees cash in unused days or carry them forward into a new year. Some even offer an unlimited number of days in this leave type — but that still requires advance notice to the team!


People fall ill, they need time to recover. It happens all the time. This type of absenteeism is usually unplanned but approved. It usually spans a few days up to a week, after which an employee is back up and running. This isn't the same as long-term sickness, which can span 4 weeks or more.

Some organisations ask for a medical certificate to verify sickness, but a majority tend to wish their employees well and give them the time they need to rest.

Parental leave

This type of absenteeism refers to planned and approved time off work for childbirth, postpartum rest or adoption. Maternal leave of up to 6 months is mandatory in most countries, but many organisations today also offer paternal leave for new fathers.

Seeing as this type of absenteeism can span months, it has to be planned and approved well in advance. This is so the team is prepared to distribute the tasks or train someone new for that duration.


Unplanned but approved, this type of absenteeism occurs when an employee's loved one passes away. It gives them the time to mourn and take care of extra household tasks that arise. Some organisations allow for an absence of up to a week; others don't put a cap on it as long as the team is informed.


A sabbatical is a long and voluntary break from work, and is also a planned and approved type of absenteeism. Those on a sabbatical from work can use their time (usually a month to six months) to upskill, travel, volunteer, or study. Sabbaticals are usually given to employees who have been around for a certain number of years.


This type of absenteeism is high-risk for an organisation. It occurs when an employee isn't motivated to work anymore and often shirks responsibilities or doesn't give their 100%. They might be physically present but mentally absent or not show up to work at all.

Absence without leave

This type of absenteeism involves employees not showing up to work without reason or prior notice. While one or two days might be dealt with, longer-term absences can wreak havoc on plans and put undue pressure on the remaining team members.

It is imperative that organisations resolve the root cause of an employee's absence without leave. It could range from personal problems to bullying and harassment at the workplace. Often, these root causes manifest symptoms that disturb the efficiency and progress of the workplace. Offering assistance along with tangible resources and workplace counselling can help chip away at the real reason and help the employee regain their footing.

A word to the wise: Being present ≠ being productive

An issue with many workplaces today is that they paint all absences with the same brush. That means even necessary breaks such as holidays and sick leave are frowned upon, which isn't great for an employee's morale. Presenteeism is just as bad as absenteeism. Being present isn't an indicator of high productivity or a willingness to work!

If you'd like to keep better tabs on absenteeism and presenteeism in your organisation, Pause can help. Pause helps teams book time off whenever they need to and sends teams notifications so no one's caught off-guard. You'll have meticulous digital records of absences across the board so you can spot any red flags and maintain employee wellbeing!

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