The Different Types of Absence from Work

The broad term ‘employee absence’ encompasses any situation where an employee is absent from work during expected working hours, but you may be surprised at just how many different types of absence in the workplace exist. While some absence from work is needed to keep a business running efficiently, some absence, particularly unplanned, can be disruptive if you don’t manage it effectively. 

Absenteeism can be a disruptive force, impacting productivity, employee morale and ultimately, the bottom line for a business. But what exactly constitutes absence from work, and how can organisations effectively manage it?

In short, there are 3 main types of absence from work:

  1. Planned absence (authorised) from work
  2. Unplanned absence from work
  3. Unauthorised absence from work 

There’s so much more to workplace absence than sickness or planned holidays - an employee could be off with stress, away at a conference, or taking time off in lieu. Understanding the many absence types and knowing how to effectively manage it will help to to plan and mitigate any knock-on effects to your organisation. 

Types of absence from work 

Planned absence

Planned absence is authorised time off requested by employees in advance for reasons such as holidays, personal appointments, or family commitments. Planned absences from work mean that employers are able to accommodate for someone not being present and can ensure proper resource allocation. Although some leave is planned and booked well in advance, effective management is still key to ensure there is minimal disruption to workflow.

Types of planned absence

Annual leave
Employees take planned time off from work for leisure, travel, or personal relaxation. Holidays and planned time off allows employees to recharge, rejuvenate and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Maternity/paternity leave
Expecting parents are entitled to take planned time off to care for a new child following childbirth, adoption or foster care.

Bereavement leave
Employees use bereavement leave to cope with the loss of a family member or close relative. Bereavement leave provides employees with the opportunity to grieve and attend funeral services without having to worry about work responsibilities and commitments.

Jury duty
Employees needed for jury duty are granted time off from work to fulfil their civic duty and serve on a jury. Employers typically provide employees with the necessary time off and may compensate them for any lost wages.

Religious and public holidays
Public holidays count as planned absences, so organisations that close on such days should clarify that attendance is not expected from employees. Some businesses provide flexible bank holidays, allowing employees to select when to utilise these additional days instead of conforming to designated dates.

Professional development leave
Some organisations allow employees to take planned time off to attend training sessions, workshops, conferences, or pursue further education to improve their skills and knowledge in their field.

Medical appointments
Medical or doctors appointments also fall under authorised absence. These appointments usually only last a few hours, with most employers not even requiring employees to extend their work hours to compensate for the missed time.

Unplanned absence

Unplanned absence happens when employees are unexpectedly absent from work due to illness, injury, emergencies, or other unforeseen circumstances. Unplanned absences can be a challenge for organisations as they can impact productivity, the team dynamics, and also customer service.

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that the most common type of unplanned absence is illness, but there are other types of unplanned absence from work that can have an impact on your organisation. Understanding the reasons for unplanned absence with an absence management software like GoodShape will allow you to identify any trends, be prepared for any unplanned absence and ultimately help employees.

Types of unplanned absence 

Sickness / illness
Being off work for sickness is one of the top reasons for unplanned leave in the workplace. Any illness, such as a common cold, fever, migraine, or stomach problems, can be generally classified as a sickness.

Stress, depression or anxiety disorders accounted for the majority of days lost due to work-related ill health in 2022/23, with 17.1 million days lost. Stress can be a huge issue for organisations, so managing stress correctly by tracking it and identifying periods of high or low stress can improve employee wellbeing.

It's important to understand the difference between being injured and being off sick. Recording absences to ‘injured’ instead of ‘off sick’ can provide valuable insights for employers, as it can help to understand whether there are any workplace issues that need to be addressed. For instance, if an employee frequently takes absences due to a bad back, tracking this injury will allow organisations to identify a potential pattern and offer appropriate advice.

Mental health issues
Mental health issues include stress, but also includes conditions such as anxiety and depression. Organisations should recognise that stress, anxiety, and depression are different and should be addressed accordingly with the right support.

Emergency leave 
Occasionally, an emergency may arise which could mean that an employee may need to take a few hours or even the entire day off at the last minute. Fortunately, these occurrences usually do not result in significant disruptions, but an employer should be prepared with a back up if there is risk to productivity.

Medical vs non medical absence

Amongst planned and unplanned leave from work, medical leave and non-medical leave are another two distinct categories of absence from work, each serving different purposes and requiring different documentation and considerations.

Medical leave
Medical leave is taken when an employee is unable to work due to personal illness, injury, or medical condition that means that they are unfit to work. Medical leave gives workers time off to recover from their illness or medical condition and to get the necessary medical treatment.

Medical leave often requires documentation from a healthcare provider, such as a doctor's note or medical certificate, which verifies the worker's condition and recommends the need for time off work.

The length of time someone may take medical leave can vary depending on the severity of the illness or injury. It may be short-term, covering a few days or weeks, or long-term, extending for several months or more, depending on the nature of the medical condition.

Non-medical leave
Non-medical leave covers a broad range of reasons for absence from work that are unrelated to personal illness or injury. This may include time taken for holidays, personal days, bereavement leave, parental leave, jury duty, or other personal or family-related reasons.

Depending on the employer's policies, documentation requirements for non-medical leave may vary. For example, bereavement leave may require proof of the employee's relationship to the deceased, while annual leave for holidays may only need advance notice and approval from management.

Addressing unplanned absence from work with GoodShape

Absence from work, especially unplanned absence, can be disruptive even if there is extra resource in place. Managing employee absences effectively has become a key aspect of organisational success, with more and more businesses of all sizes across the world choosing to address absenteeism with the help of absence management software.

GoodShape offers a suite of advanced features designed to address unplanned absence effectively and mitigate its impact on organisational success.

Real-time absence reporting
GoodShape provides 24/7 real-time absence reporting and data capture, allowing employees to report absences promptly and accurately. HR managers have immediate visibility into unplanned absences, enabling them to take quick action to manage staffing levels and mitigate disruptions.

Automated alert engine
GoodShape's alert engine sends notifications and absence policy alerts to HR managers and supervisors, prompting them to take appropriate actions in response to unplanned absences. This ensures consistency and compliance with absence management policies and helps reduce the administrative burden on HR teams.

Referrals and support services
GoodShape facilitates managed referrals to third-party support services, such as healthcare providers or employee assistance programs, to address the underlying causes of unplanned absences. 

Reporting and analytics
GoodShape offers robust reporting and analytics tools that enable organisations to analyse absence trends, identify patterns, and assess the impact of unplanned absences on productivity and performance. Organisations can implement targeted interventions to address root causes and reduce unplanned absence rates.

Effective absence management is one step in the right direction when it comes to maintaining productivity, employee wellbeing, and organisational success. With GoodShape, unplanned absence doesn't have to be a disruptive force - it can be an opportunity to strengthen employee engagement, encourage a culture of health, and drive sustainable growth.

Here’s what our clients have to say about us:

“The GoodShape partnership has enabled managers to focus their support on their colleagues, by reducing the time needed to manage the data.”
- Operations planning manager, London Stansted Airport.

“We would recommend GoodShape to other organisations who want to streamline processes and reduce absence.”
- HR business partner, Heathrow Express

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