Absenteeism, a very complex issue

60 billion euros: according to a recent study, this is how much absenteeism cost the French economy in 2022!

This phenomenon has existed for some time, but what do we really know about it? What causes it and what is its real impact on the economy? And above all, what can we do to reduce it?

A rather vague concept

Even if there is no clear definition of the term absenteeism, that of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) is the most widely accepted: “a more generalised definition of absenteeism (unplanned absence) includes non-attendance at work where work attendance is scheduled.”

Of course, it is important to differentiate the concept of absenteeism between that affecting a collective and that of an individual.

Direct costs and of course indirect costs

In addition to the direct costs incurred in paying and possibly replacing an absent employee, absenteeism also results in considerable indirect expense for every company.

It is true to say that all company employees are impacted: for example, those who continue working during the absence of others, but also those who return after a certain period of absence.

The most obvious impact concerns workloads, as colleagues have to pick up the work of absent colleagues, but one should also not overlook the challenge of resuming work after a period of absence. The consequences of a fall in available staff are varied: a reduction in the quality of work delivered, an increase in errors, a fall in production levels, production delays, risk of burnout, etc.

Furthermore, the absence of certain employees may make some organisational changes necessary. It goes without saying that when one link of the chain is missing, then the whole chain is affected. This may then make it necessary to review the way work is carried out internally, at least during the employee’s period of absence.

Of course, as is the case with presenteeism, there is also the risk that absenteeism may be contagious and spread to other company employees. When certain employees are not at work and as workloads grow, others may also be tempted to resort to absenteeism.

Some figures:

Several studies have shown that companies can cope with a rate of absenteeism of between 4% and 5%. However, this changes when rates rise to around 8% . In the public sector. The absentee rate may reach even 10%, more than double those of the average in the private sector. In France, absenteeism in the private sector increased by 18% in 2021, which means around 3 days of absence more than in 2018. In that year, the cost of absenteeism rose to 6.98 billion euros for private companies and 8.77 billion euros for the social security system.

In Luxembourg, the rate of absenteeism caused by illness rose from 3.88% to 3.94% between 2018 and 2019. This increase can be explained by the overall increase in long-term absenteeism (1.5% in 2019 as opposed to 1.48% in 2018). To find out more about your company’s absenteeism please consult:

Measuring absenteeism

The rate of absenteeism constitutes an important indicator for all companies, because it can provide insights into internal malfunctions. But bear in mind that some aspects may be more pertinent than others. It is important to differentiate between planned absence (training sessions, annual paid leave, etc.) and unplanned absence (illness, strikes, work accidents, etc). The latter is of course most problematical and must be urgently dealt with by employers.

Unplanned absence can be calculated in general terms by reviewing all types of absence or more specifically. On the whole, it is best to avoid generalisations based on a simple calculation of absenteeism rates, but rather to assess different aspects such as frequency, duration, whether there are any periods which are more affected than others, if specific task areas are more affected, etc.

If you conduct a more in-depth analysis of absenteeism, you will find it possible to identify specific characteristics, as well as to gain better insights into the causes. The main objective must be to find solutions and reduce the phenomenon in the company.

Focus on…

The figures may highlight a particular type of absenteeism: seasonal absenteeism. This type of absenteeism has frequently been observed during specific periods during the year.

Which period is most affected? Winter. The lack of sunshine, fall in temperatures, increased incidence of viruses, etc. mean that employees often feel more at risk and less resilient. This results in companies registering higher absenteeism levels during the first and fourth quarters of the year. Studies have shown that levels rise to around 4% in winter, as opposed to 3% in summer. Unfortunately, there is little that companies can undertake to remedy this winter effect on their employees, but they could nevertheless reduce the impact by trying to anticipate its impact.

What can de done to limit this phenomenon?

The main causes of absenteeism can be attributed to three categories:

Personal reasons (illness, family issues, maternity, etc.)

Professional reasons (accidents at work, professional illness, etc.)
Increased workloads, stress, lack of motivation

Even if a company has difficulty taking action on the first category, certain options can be pursued to reduce the impact of the latter two. What exactly could they undertake?

Pay attention to the work environment: maintain pleasant working temperatures regardless of the season, ensure that lighting is appropriate and the premises are regularly cleaned, etc. In short, if the workplace is agreeable there will be less risk of illness and motivation levels will be maintained, thus reducing the risk of absenteeism.
Guarantee safety in the workplace: abide by current regulations and make employees aware of potential risks (linked to their jobs, safety measures, first aid, etc.) to reduce absenteeism caused by professional reasons.
Adapt management styles to suit employee diversity and different contexts. Listen and exchange with staff; the provision of support, feedback and follow ups can reduce stress levels and minimise the risk of staff becoming demotivated.
Encourage collaboration, possibly by encouraging worksharing to reduce the impact of an individual absence on the way the company’s production linesoperate, as well as on the remaining employees.
Encourage a better work-life balance to limit absences caused by personal issues and to reduce workloads.

Of course, all such measures must be aligned to the size of the company, its culture, field of activity, budget, etc.

But avoid the trap of trying to reduce absenteeism and then causing more presenteeism…

Let us help you


[2] Royal Australasian College of Physicians – Workplace attendance and absenteeism – The Australasian Faculty of Occupational Medicine(1999)

[3] « Une définition plus générale de l’absentéisme (absence non planifiée) consiste en une non présence au travail alors que la présence est prévue. »

[4] Jamal Amrani – Un taux d’absentéisme de 4 à 5 % est tolérable – La vie éco (30 janvier 2009)

[5] Alma CG – Baromètre de l’Absentéisme 2013 (septembre 2013)

[6] Thierry Mazoyer – L’absentéisme pour cause de maladie en 2012 – Aperçus n°2 (19 juillet 2013)

[7] Nombre d’heures d’absence / nombre d’heures de travail théoriques

[8] DARES – Les absences au travail des salariés pour raisons de santé : un rôle important des conditions de travail – Dares Analyses n°9 (février 2013)

[9] M. Dumas – Les 3 principales causes des absences – Performances n°23 (août 2005)