Absenteeism from work: psychological causes

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Louise Hay
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Absenteeism from work: psychological causes

Last update: April 07, 2019

Did you know that looking at email during office hours is a form of absenteeism from work? Broadly speaking, the aforementioned practice can be defined as deliberate absence from the workplace during office hours. But also as an abandonment of duties, rights and functions related to a specific office. But what lies behind this attitude? Why does a person become irresponsible at work?



This is a very difficult problem to tackle, as it is enormously complex. Furthermore, it is an endemic phenomenon that knows no distinctions of sex, religion or age, triggered by various factors, among which those of a psychosocial nature stand out, which, depending on the specific case, can vary a lot.

Let's explore the psychological causes of absenteeism from work.

Types of absenteeism from work

Generally speaking, absenteeism from work is usually classified into the following types:

  • Presential: occurs when the worker performs tasks not related to his or her job during office hours. For example, when he is shopping on the internet, reading e-mails, talking on the phone with friends or family, etc. These attitudes represent losses for the company that are prolonged over time. The worker does not pay, does not make an effort and this affects company productivity. Following various warnings, the matter can end in a dismissal or suspension.
  • Justified: the employee is absent from his / her workplace after first notifying the company. For example, when he goes to the doctor, when he goes on vacation or takes leave for births, bereavement, work accidents, etc.
  • Unjustified and without warning: is the antithesis of the previous point. The worker does not warn or justify his absence from work. Basically, he is not authorized by the company and, consequently, he is not allowed to leave his job. As in the present case, it can lead to dismissal for just cause.

Psychological causes of absenteeism from work

It is important to know the underlying causes of the problem to understand why absenteeism is considered an endemic disease and to find out what consequences it can cause, both for the person and for the surrounding environment.



As mentioned, psychosocial factors best explain absenteeism from work. But the latter include a great deal of individual variables.

Depersonalization, low motivation and low self-esteem

In recent decades, work has ceased to be a value in itself. In other words, it has been exploited to the point that it has also lost all its intrinsic values. The dreaded "crisis" has turned many workers into robots. Their workplace is the only way they have to live and fulfill their obligations.

This means that, ultimately, the only thing that matters to the worker is the end-of-month salary. He then stops paying attention to performance to focus more on work essentially as a means of livelihood. The most direct effect of this phenomenon is the depersonalization of the worker. He does not live his role as his own, but as a means "for". At the same time, a loss of motivation is generated, with a consequent negative impact on the mood.

"Absenteeism is a universal phenomenon, costly, both for the organization and for the individual, and influenced by a constellation of different interrelated factors."

-Rhodes e Steers, 1990-

Work stress

Currently some companies adopt production policies based on staff reduction. It means they are firing or not hiring new workers in an attempt to maintain the same levels of production. With this, workers are asked to have a greater load of responsibilities and tasks, at the same time and with the same salary.

The result? Workplace task overload, lack of motivation and the aforementioned work stress. The latter is the main psychological cause of absenteeism from work.


Stress occurs when there is an imbalance between what is required of us by the environment and the resources we have to fulfill the requests. As regards the workplace only, the International Labor Organization (ILO) defines it as a disease capable of “endangering the economy of industrialized countries”.



Consequences of work stress

Some of the consequences of work stress manifest themselves in the short, medium and long term, depending on the people and their strategies in dealing with them. Among the psychological effects we find difficulty concentrating and participating, anxiety or depression, cognitive deterioration, insomnia and even mental disorders.

The physical consequences can manifest themselves with cardiovascular alterations (hypertension, arrhythmias) or dermatological (dermatitis, alopecia, urticaria). But also in sexual problems (erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation) or musculoskeletal (spasms, tics, muscle tension).

This psychosocial disorder does not benefit either companies or workers. Companies should therefore help their employees get rid of stress. An added problem is that of simulation. This is the pretense of an illness or disorder to justify absenteeism. However, a phenomenon that is very difficult to prove and control.


In conclusion, absenteeism from work is a problem directly linked to company policies, the quality of the working environment and employee dissatisfaction. And like any problem, it requires effective and intelligent solutions, all the more effective as they are specific depending on the case.

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