5 steps to improving employee absenteeism

May 5, 2020

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The average annual cost of health-related absenteeism and presenteeism per organisation is estimated at RM 2.7 million in Malaysia. Employee absenteeism is the habitual pattern of absence from work without cause, while presenteeism is when an employee is physically present for work, despite being sick or not productive.

According to a workplace survey conducted by AIA, Malaysian workers are overworked, stressed and lead unhealthier lifestyles.

  • They work an average of 15 hours more than their contracted hours per week
  • 51% of employees suffer from at least one dimension of work-related stress 
  • 53% of employees get less than 7 hours of sleep 
  • 64% are doing less than 150 minutes of physical activity a week

Poor employee health can result in chronic illnesses which forces employees to take frequent medical leaves. Aside from health-related issues, some of the common reasons for absenteeism are tied to disengagement in the workplace, feeling burnt out, struggles with mental health, and employee mistreatment.

Why absenteeism matters 


In 2019, organisations lost a total of 73.3 days per employee due to absence and presenteeism. High administrative costs are incurred when organisations have to find replacement workers while paying them for overtime work.

Frequent medical leaves increases the amount of administrative work for HR. They have to keep track of the employees' allocated medical leave and for some organisations who provide employee health benefits, reimburse their employees. This is a great deal of manual administrative work that can hinder higher priority tasks.

The cost of absenteeism also spills onto employees who cite lower productivity and morale, which directly affects employee engagement. Employee engagement is an essential factor that affects the success of an organisation. Disengaged employees tend to be less committed and motivated to work and thus more likely to skip out on work. This commonly comes from a lack of trust and transparency with the employers. 

For more effective practices on managing employee absenteeism, these 5 steps can help improve absenteeism in the organisation.

#1 Automate employee absence records

Tracking employee sick leaves and verifying medical certificates (MCs) retroactively can be a hassle for both employees and employers. While not all organisations enforce showing an MC to verify sick leave, it is still important to have leave records. A process that makes doing so simpler is a free employee benefits tool for HR that automates the administrative process for collecting and processing MCs in real-time. 

#2 Have a clear written policy about time off

A lack of clarity in HR policies can lead to confusion and fear of requesting for time off when employees really need it. In order to foster a healthy relationship, trust and transparency needs to be developed in the organisation. This starts with clear communication on the company’s sick leave and flexible/vacation leave policies. For example, a mandate on vacation leave would require a minimum of 2 weeks for management approval. For MCs that fall on a long weekend, a doctor’s note must be timed and dated within the first three hours of work to be accepted. These measures allow employees to understand that managers need time in advance to plan ahead and account for employee absences. 

#3 Encourage upwards management

Micro-managing employees damages the team’s morale and creates a high-stress environment. Instead, entrust your employees to take ownership and responsibility. Having employees who are proactive in reporting to their managers on their duties can develop a higher degree of trust and communication. When employees take charge of themselves, they tend to be more engaged with work as well and hold a higher degree of responsibility and stake in their work. As employees make the work for their managers easier, they’re more likely to develop a stronger sense of trust and rapport.

#4 Reward and display gratitude often

Making employees feel appreciated at work is also one way of increasing employee engagement, which helps retain top talent in an organisation. Finding ways for employees to identify exemplary behaviour among themselves can also strengthen relationships and teamwork. Consider a monthly employee recognition program, where team members can share positive stories from the team, highlighting efforts on teamwork and taking initiative. You can get creative with the rewards! Gift cards or flexible benefits can be a good place to start.

#5 Wellness programs

A strategic employee benefits program that includes wellness initiatives would be effective in improving employees’ productivity and health. Providing wellness benefits are also a way to show employees that their organisation is prioritising their health. In short, empowering employees to lead better lifestyles will positively impact their overall well-being. 

While healthy habits do not form overnight, it is the employers’ responsibility to plan ahead to assess and mitigate challenges within the organisation. Every organisation has to start somewhere, and just by doing research (such as reading this blog post 😉) you’re already taking a step in the right direction.

About Mednefits:

Mednefits is a free employee medical benefits platform that connects SMEs directly to health and wellness providers at lower costs. The platform works with any HR policy, any budget. Mednefits currently has over 550 providers located in Singapore and Malaysia. Request to join Mednefits for free.

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