Absenteeism: what are we talking about?

All the surveys carried out on absenteeism converge on the same observation: an inflexible increase in absenteeism in France for several years!

Numbers of absenteeism

Six out of ten companies have experienced an increase in absenteeism over the past five years, according to the latest study by the Référentiel de l'absentéisme association.

A correlation is clearly established between the increase in absenteeism and the size of the company: large groups (> 5,000 employees) are the most affected (79% of large companies) and the threshold of 100 people appears as a tipping point. (43% companies with less than 50 employees are affected).

This study also reveals that three sectors are characterized by above-average increases in absenteeism:

Source: absenteeism repository

Another striking fact: the percentage of companies having succeeded in reducing their absenteeism over the past five years is only 20%.

For the authors of this study, this observation of failure stems from the complexity and the multifactorial dimension of this problem, faced with which the departments, in particular the HRDs, do not have the appropriate tools or expertise and are not supported. to deal with this topic.

According to them, this lack of support is linked to the fact that absenteeism is very often seen primarily as an HR issue only.

It is only the achievement of a critical organizational threshold and therefore an impact in terms of reduced competitiveness that will challenge general management and financial management and transform the subject of absenteeism into a business problem.

Data on the cost of absenteeism in France

According to the study of the Absenteeism Repository, only 5% of the companies questioned measure all the costs (direct and indirect) linked to absenteeism, 10% only measure direct costs while 85% have no financial indicators. .

Monitoring absenteeism indicators can be a strategic junction point between the various business and support departments and in particular between the human resources department, the financial department and the general management.

Absenteeism today represents 16% of the total amount of salaries paid in France

Calculation of the absenteeism rate and types of absences taken into account

One of the (many) difficulties with the absenteeism indicator is its synthetic dimension. Like any indicator, it is important to know what it covers, how it is calculated, what it encompasses and what it excludes.

An indicator is always a matter of debate. It guides behavior. It can be the fulcrum of a policy carried out, hence the importance of the choices to be made to delimit its perimeter.


The absenteeism rate is calculated in the form of the weight of absences in relation to the planned working time (theoretical workforce) over the same determined period.

It is therefore a ratio:

The shorter the period (e.g. a month) and the more restricted the scope (e.g. a particular department, a particular schedule, a particular job), the finer the analysis.

In this formula, it is advisable to clearly define what is meant by “absence” and to distinguish between so-called incompressible absences from so-called compressible absences.

In fact, not all absences constitute absenteeism: those which are predictable in terms of their regularity, or which are based on social entitlements, are not "compressible" and should not be included in the monitoring of a "compressible" absenteeism rate, in other words, one on which the organization has the means to act.

Incompressible absences

So-called incompressible absences are not absenteeism, even if they will result in an absence from the “workstation”, for example:

  • Maternity and paternity leave
  • Training hours
  • Union delegation hours
  • Paid vacation, …

For operational and organizational reasons, it may be necessary to track several absence rates: some jobs require you to be present at all times, regardless of the nature of the absence or the reason for it.

Compressible absences

Compressible absences are those we recommend integrating and monitoring as part of an action plan: they are avoidable and cause the greatest disruption to the business.

They are linked, even indirectly, to the conditions of performance of the work and to the organization of the work (absences which cover a risk of which we do not know when it will occur but which may be the subject of a preventive action):

  • Work accidents
  • Commuting accidents
  • Professional diseases
  • Common illnesses
  • Unjustified absences

It may be appropriate to monitor only "compressible" absenteeism, which includes absences that can be controlled by the company because they are linked to policy, work organization or interpersonal relations. This means choosing to include only these five types of absence in the scope of the rate calculation, and to exclude the others.

However, it is important that this bias be debated internally with the players concerned (management, managerial line, staff representatives, etc.).

But be careful not to want to go too far in controlling your absenteeism, this can conversely generate presenteeism which has the same harmful effects as absenteeism. It is defined as being:

"The behavior of a worker who, despite physical and / or psychological health problems requiring time off, reports to work"

(Gosselin & Lauzier, 2011)


Some employers have calculated that employee absenteeism costs them an average of three times the direct expenses of the employee on sick leave.

These are only statistics to be put into perspective with the context of each company, with the policies implemented, but this gives an idea of the stakes when we know for example that a degradation of image, a loss of confidence (of employees or customers) can be lasting and invaluable ...

The direct costs of absenteeism to the employer fall into at least four main categories. Indirect costs, often invisible directly, vary according to the context of each company, but are nonetheless very real.

The impacts of absenteeism on the productivity and performance of the company set off a vicious circle: delays in delivery or production, deterioration in the quality of products or services rendered, therefore loss of confidence on the part of customers, development of feeling frustrating to "do the work of others without any recognition" therefore disengagement of employees who feel aggrieved and development of tensions between employees present, between absent and present employees and between employees and managers.


Absenteeism is very expensive for organizations, whether public or private.

The figures mentioned in this section show that few actions are implemented by employers or that those implemented are ineffective, while the stakes are high.

Not every absence is absenteeism, so it is important to know what you want to measure. The company must focus on the most significant absenteeism factors in its context and the most likely to be able to be the subject of an effective intervention by the implementation of an action plan.

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