Last updated May 19, 2023

This is a free activity that is useful for management training and is particularly useful for providing learning on how to deal with workplace absence (see also the post on how to reduce absenteeism in the workplace).

Training activity for managers to teach absence management

Part 1 – Understanding the Effects of Absenteeism in the Workplace

Before starting the main activity, it is useful first to run through the ‘Effects of absenteeism in the workplace’.

To do this, we can start with a Q&A (Questions and Answers) task.

At first, show only the title of the slide below (you can recreate the slide in PowerPoint). Before showing the points on the slide though, ask participants the following question.

What are the effects of absenteeism on a company?

Wait for answers.

After participants have answered, go through the points on the slide.

Discussing the effects of workplace absenteeism
(PowerPoint slide above from the Absence Management Teaching Materials)

1. Increased costs

For example, these can include paying overtime for employees who cover absences, paying for temporary staff, and loss of productivity.

2. Decreased productivity

When employees are absent, other members of staff might have to cover for them, thus adding the absentee employee’s workload and responsibilities onto their own.

This is likely to lead to an overall loss of productivity.

3. Demotivated employees

Staff members who have to cover for other members of staff who are absent might start to resent this, particularly if their extra efforts are not recognized.

This can lead to lower morale and demotivation.

4. Decreased customer satisfaction.

For departments that deal with customers, more pressure on staff who cover for those who are absent might lead to lower customer satisfaction.

Part 2 – Reasons for Absenteeism in the Workplace

Now to the main part of the activity.

At first, only show the title and the empty diagram on the slide in the picture below.

Before showing the content of each quadrant, say the following to the participants and then ask the questions that follow afterward.

“We have talked about the effects of absenteeism. However, not all absences are absenteeism, and not all absenteeism is the same.

Think about any reasons why an employee might be absent from work, one example being for holiday (vacation) allowance. What are the reasons why an employee might be absent?

Secondly, also ask the participants to decide if that type of absence might be legitimate or illegitimate and planned or unplanned.

In other words, what types of absence would they place in each quarter of the diagram in the slide image below?

Legitimate workplace absence example

Wait for answers.

As participants answer, you might want to jot down their answers on a flipchart (or on a virtual whiteboard if you are teaching online).

Alternatively, you might want to run this Q&A as an activity, whereby participants are split into groups and each group write down their answers and then discuss them with the class as a whole.

After participants have answered, show them the rest of the content on the slide and explain.

Types of workplace absence listed
Taken from the Absence Management in the Workplace Training PowerPoint’s & PDFs

Legitimate Absences

‘Legitimate’ means that there is a good reason for employees to be absent.

For example, going on holiday (as everyone deserves a break), compassionate leave, etc.

Illegitimate Absences

‘Illegitimate’ absences are often difficult to identify with certainty.

For example, we can think about somebody lying about being ill (but we can never be sure that they are lying unless we have some sort of proof, which is usually very hard to get).

Planned and Unplanned Absences

Then, we can separate absences depending on if they are planned (we know about these in advance) or unplanned (they are unforeseen) and each type can have a different impact on a company.

So, now we have four separate quadrants into which we can classify absences and we will see that a company needs to look at each type differently.

Understanding Legitimate vs Illegitimate Absence at Work

NOTE: ER stands for ‘employee relations’, which defines the relationship between employers and employees.

Quadrant 1 (in the diagram) – Absences that Are Legitimate and Planned

Examples of this type of absence are holidays (vacations), parental leave, leave to care for a dependent, sabbatical, leave for medical appointments, disability leave, public duties (such as being part of a jury), etc.

This type of absence needs to be encouraged. Why?

First of all, encouraging this type of absence can lead to positive employee relations, which means a good relationship between an employer and their employees.

Providing your employees with decent holiday allowances and other types of leave as needed, makes them feel appreciated, supported, and comfortable working for you.

Second, this type of absence is easier to manage for a company compared to other types of absence as you can plan in advance and arrange cover with enough warning.

Quadrant 2 – Planned and Illegitimate

Using types of legitimate leave when they are not necessary. This would entail the employee to lie but, as mentioned before, it is often hard to prove, so you need to be careful before making accusations.

This type of absence needs to be reduced.

The problem is that this type of absence can be a symptom of poor employee relations.

So, if you think that in your company there might be a high level of this type of absence, you might want to assess things such as your employees’ satisfaction level and find out what it is in your company’s culture that causes low satisfaction for employees.

Managing this type of absence though is not too bad, as they are planned absences, so you can find ways to provide cover in advance.

Quadrant 3 – Illegitimate and Unplanned

The third quadrant contains the worst type of absence, illegitimate and unplanned. This is highly negative and this is the one you want to reduce at all costs.

For example, this type of absence includes what is called, in British English, ‘to pull a sickie’, which means to take a day off work pretending you are sick when you are not.

Even in this case, it is very hard for an employer to prove that an employee is lying, so you should not make accusations.

If you think that this type of absence is frequent in your company, you need to worry as it is a symptom of poor employee relations and this is hard to manage (trying to find cover at the last minute, for example).

The good news is that you can reduce this type of absence by putting strategies in place to improve your ER.

Quadrant 4 – Legitimate and Unplanned Work Absence

The last type of absence is legitimate and unplanned. For example, this happens when an employee has an accident, gets sick, needs compassionate leave, or needs to look after a dependent at short notice.

Unforeseen circumstances will always happen in people’s lives, so you need to manage this type of absence as best as you can and be supportive of your employees.

To a certain extent, you can try to reduce this type of absence by addressing health and safety at work and promoting healthy living among your employees. However, you can never eliminate it completely.

If you manage this type of absence correctly, with compassion and a supportive attitude, it can lead to a positive ER.

This type of absence is quite hard to manage as it is unplanned.

Managing work absense for employees
>> See the Absence management materials if you want the full PowerPoint and PDFs.
Dr Valeria Lo Iacono